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Lectionary Living

Avoiding Deceit

(1/17) 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)  •  Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18  •  1 Corinthians 6:12-20  •  John 1:43-51

    Today's Samuel reading is one of my favorites. A little background. As First Samuel opens, a childless woman named Hannah is at the temple in Shiloh praying for a son. The priest, Eli, noticing her intense praying, first thinks that she's been drinking. Hannah makes it clear that not only is she sober, but she is also intent on serving God. She tells Eli that if she has a son, she will give him to the Lord's service. When Hannah gets pregnant, she praises the Lord in words picked up again, hundreds of years later: my soul proclaims the greatness of the lord (Luke 1:46ff). When she has a son, Hannah dedicates his life to God's work. She takes care of him as a baby and toddler, bringing him to Eli as a boy. Annually, she makes the trip to Shiloh to give thanks, and I'm guessing, to check on her son.

    In contrast to Hannah's son, who is growing up 'in stature and favor with the Lord and with the people' (2:26), Eli's sons are not doing so well. Right before the scripture opens, Eli has had a visit from an unnamed person who warns him that his godless children will be utterly destroyed. By this time, Eli was an old man, and his eyesight was poor. Samuel apparently slept nearby, to attend to him. One night, Samuel hears a voice calling him. He goes to Eli, who says he did not call him. This happens three times. On the third time, Eli catches on. It is the Lord's voice. Eli coaches Samuel: if you hear it again, say 'speak Lord, for your servant is listening' (3:9).

    Eli's responsibility to Samuel – and to his mother, for that matter – was to bring him to this point. To raise up a person who could serve the Lord was his task. Part of the work, at this point, was for Eli to step down. It seems that Eli had once been favored with these kinds of chats in the night, let's call it. As the person to whom the Lord had spoken in the past, it might have been a hard thing to move to the outside of what one might describe as privileged communication. Eli saw that it was now Samuel's turn. But before Eli's job was done, Samuel still had to learn what to do with a vision from the Lord. Samuel is afraid to tell Eli, as the news repeats the warning that Eli's kids are in big trouble.  Eli, anticipating that the news might be difficult, warns Samuel to tell him everything.

    Avoiding deceit – AKA telling the truth – is hard to do. Under pressure, it's often the first thing to go. Jesus, in the gospel reading, seemed happy simply to see one person in whom there was no guile! What makes the truth so important is its capacity to provide a broader view of reality. What makes it so rare is an incapacity to be interested in gaining perspective! It's easier to lie to oneself and to others.

    When Samuel tells Eli what the Lord had said, Eli answers, "It is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him." It seems to me that Eli taught Samuel two lessons that day. The first was that the word of the Lord – the truth, let's call it – was a message to be shared, not held in secret. The second was how a mature person responds to the truth. Assimilating bad news requires emotional self-regulation. Samuel would have many opportunities to speak the truth to others over his life. Sometimes it would be difficult news. But now he knew what to look for: a hearing of the message and a tad of curiosity around how this would work out for the good.

    In some homes, everyone is required to agree, more or less, with the family's outlook. The lack of openness limits the circulation of new ideas through the system. In a closed system, children have little opportunity to hear or engage different thoughts. Learning how to share one's own thinking while remaining interested in the view of others is challenging work. Phrases like I see this a little differently… can be kept in mind, as one practices. Human cooperation is built on the broadening of individual understanding so that the group can find its way forward.


Morning: Where might I hold back the truth today? How can I find a way to share it?

Evening: When was it hard to hear another person's point of view? How did I do with emotional self-regulation?    

Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

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