Proper 6(B): Ancient & Modern

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By: The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly

“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Well that’s a relief! Discipleship is not a beauty contest! That means there’s hope for me after all! Preachers who choose 1 Samuel as their text will find fertile ground for proclaiming the Gospel over and against the pseudo-Gospel proffered by our culture, which insists on the idolatry of the perfect waist or bust size; the perfect skin tone or hair style; the perfect trends in fashion and style. There is an endless supply of material available for preachers whose people need to hear a word spoken against consumerism.

There is also plenty good room in this text for the preacher to focus on the character of the heart, and what God requires of those who seek to follow. This text cuts both ways. Yes, God does not focus on our outward appearance, but God does focus on our inner character and condition. It’s much easier to mask and dress up the former than it is the latter. In fact, one could argue that at least part of our culture’s obsessiveness on outer appearance is rooted in feelings of shame or guilt or inadequacy about the content of our character.

What are we to make of God’s choice of the younger and “ruddy” David over his older (and customarily preferred) siblings? There is something of a pattern here. God also chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Gideon over his older siblings. There are echoes here of Hannah’s song, and even a faint whisper of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, where God acts to lift up the lowly. Where we see a meager shepherd, God sees a King in the making!

If the preacher is planning to continue along Track I for a few more weeks, or for the rest of the season, there is also plenty to ponder in terms of preaching a series on 1 & 2 Samuel. One potential starting place might be to focus on the fact that, at the moment David is anointed King, there is another King of Israel who is alive and well: Saul, whom God has rejected.

The symmetry between the anointing of Saul and the anointing of David is striking: God commands Samuel to anoint David, just as God earlier commanded him to anoint Saul. Saul had sinned, leading to God’s rejection of him. David will also sin grievously. The Spirit of God rests upon David, just as the Spirit rested upon Saul. David will rise to supplant Saul, and in so doing, bear witness to the will of God being accomplished, despite the fickleness and capriciousness of God’s servants.  

1 & 2 Samuel portrays the radical growth and expansion of Israel from a lowly tribe of Hebrews into a geopolitical force. As Walter Brueggemann noted in his watershed commentary on the books of Samuel, there are three distinct factors at work in this transformation: political power, social pressure, and technological possibility.[1] This text wrestles with questions of international diplomacy and military action, the development of infrastructure, economic policy and wealth distribution, land use policies, and the emergence of socio-political factions and policies. Those who treat this ancient text as if it has no wisdom to impart do so at their peril. Indeed, as patient, careful, and imaginative preachers will discover, 1 & 2 Samuel is every bit as timely and contemporary as the Sunday newspaper headlines!


[1] Walter Brueggemann, “1 & 2 Samuel” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching James L. Mays, Series Editor (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 1.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly is the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (DMin, MDiv, & Certificate in Anglican Studies). In his elusive moments of spare time, he enjoys running, reading, and cooking–though not at the same time! Husband to Elizabeth, he is also the editor of ModernMetanoia.org.

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