This blog offers a mediation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SILENT PROTEST IN TURKEY
1 Samuel 2:27-36
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
27 A man of God came to ‘Eli and told him, “Here is what Adonai says: ‘Didn’t I reveal myself to your ancestor’s clan when they were in Egypt, serving as slaves in Pharaoh’s household? 28 Didn’t I choose him out of all the tribes of Isra’el to be my priest, go up to my altar, burn incense and wear a ritual vest in my presence? Didn’t I assign to your ancestor’s clan all the offerings of the people of Isra’el made by fire? 29 So why are you showing such disrespect for my sacrifices and offerings, which I ordered to be made at my dwelling? Why do you show more honor to your sons than to me, making yourselves fat with the choicest parts of all the offerings of Isra’el my people?’
30 “Therefore Adonai the God of Isra’el says, ‘I did indeed say that your family and your father’s family would walk in my presence forever.’ But now Adonai says, ‘Forget it! I respect those who respect me, but those who despise me will meet with contempt. 31 The day is coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age. 32 At a time when Isra’el is prospering, you will see a rival in my Dwelling; and never will anyone in your family live to old age. 33 Still, I won’t cut off every one of your men from my altar; because that would make your eyes grow dim, and you would waste away. Nevertheless, all your descendants will die young. 34 Your sign that this will occur will be what happens to your two sons Hofni and Pinchas — they will both die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who will do what I want and what I intend. I will make his family faithful, and he will serve in the presence of my anointed one forever. 36 Everyone left in your family will come, prostrate himself before him for a silver coin or a loaf of bread, and say, “Please, won’t you give me some work as a priest, so I can have a scrap of bread to eat?”’”
I wrote the other day that according to the books of Samuel, true life is mutual generosity between God and humanity. This means that what human beings do in this relationship affects God, who does not hide behind his divinity: he can be hurt, disappointed, betrayed…and consequently angry. Here the anger of God is declared by an anonymous prophet. God has given the tribe of Levi the privilege of being priests to the people, but they have become corrupt, enjoying the status but showing contempt for the holiness of God. Therefore, God will break his promise, at least as it applies to Eli’s sons, who will die young. Another, more faithful priest is already waiting in the wings. The reader may at this point wonder whether God has already fallen out of love with the family of Eli and wants to replace them with a new favourite. Obviously the story doesn’t quite say that, but there’s often a sense, deliberately hinted by the storyteller, that God’s purposes are not fully revealed even to faithful servants.
The reader should notice also that although God holds Eli partly responsible for the behaviour of his sons, he recognises his fundamental honesty and has pity on him; “because that would make your eyes grow dim, and you would waste away.” This mixture of emotions characterises the humanity of God.
This is a rich narrative, to be savoured for its flavour and spice.
It also carries an uncompromising warning to corrupt religious institutions: God is not sentimental; sacred histories will not save decadent priesthoods.
There is a question today as to whether all priesthoods, even faithful ones, are not an imposition on believing people, who are after all quite capable of understanding their beliefs, offering their own worship and running their own communities of faith. Churches of the reformation will argue that there are varieties of “gifts” and that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is a special gift, necessary for the existence of the church. For most of my life I’ve believed that and worked accordingly. I find it hard to believe otherwise but as the believing community grows smaller I wonder a) how it can continue to support a full-time ministry and b) whether the existence of that ministry has not enfeebled the faith of the community-as long as there are priests/ ministers the community can expect someone else to “do it for them”.
Perhaps if we could recapture the robust faith of the author of Samuel, we might find more creative ways of walking with God.