The Preferential Option
Week 7, Day 1
The entire text for this week is below.
Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king who will eventually take Saul’s place on the throne. He goes to the house of Jessie, a prolific sire of 8 sons, and who knows how many daughters. Jessie first presents Samuel with his oldest son Eliab, who must have been a strapping figure of a man. Samuel takes one look at him and exclaims, to God if not out loud, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” “Not so fast”, God replies. “You want good looks. I want a good heart!”
Jessie’s 7 oldest sons cycle through in turn. Each time God says to Samuel, “Not this one”. When they get to the end of the line Samuel is confused and disappointed. “Are all your sons here?” Samuel asks. “There remains yet the youngest”, Jessie tells him, “but he is keeping the sheep”. He might as well have said, “Well, there is the runt of the litter, but he’s out with the animals. I don’t think he’s worth your trouble”.
Samuel insists on seeing the “boy”. David is brought in from the field and, contrary to what Samuel was probably expecting, he sees before him a handsome, ruddy complexioned young man with “beautiful eyes”. “That one!” God says. And the prophet anoints the young David to be the next king of Israel.
What we have here is a classic inversion story—a story where what you expect is exactly opposite of what you get. Think of how often we’ve seen this played out. Able is chosen over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his 10 older brothers. To quote Jesus, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
All through Scripture, it seems, God’s heart is drawn to the least, the last, the young, the powerless; the one unlikely to rise through the ranks of the rich, the strong or the well connected. This is what Catholic theologian Gustavo Gutierrez meant by his phrase, “God’s preferential option for the poor”. “The message of the Gospel, above all”, he said “is that God loves the world and loves those who are poorest within it.”
There is a gospel heart to the Scriptures that beats loudly all the way from Genesis to Revelation. God is always for the poor, the weak, the oppressed. Listen for that heart beat—feel it, as we read through the rest of our lessons this year.
Prayer: God of grace, we give our poor lives over to your generous heart. May that same heart beat in us whenever we hear cries for help from those you love. Amen.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
1 The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ 2 Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ 5 He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’* 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 11 Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went .
Psalm 51. 10-14
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right* spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.