Proper 4, Year B, Track 1
1 Samuel 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6
The scene opens today with Samuel sleeping next to the Arc of the convenient. He is ministering to the Lord, possibly as a guard; guarding the sanctuary. Samuel works in the temple and was probably part of the temple’s daily routine. He obviously has a close relationship with the High Priest, Eli; so much so that Samuel isn’t concerned with entering Eli’s room at night when called. With all of this in mind, spending time in the temple and all the priests around him, I can only imagine Samuel thought he knew something of the Lord. But our text says “Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
I wonder if this is how I was as a young Christian. I thought I knew the Lord. I serve the Lord, I went to church, I was acolyte, I sang in the choir. I was active and enjoyed being at church. But looking back, how well did I know the Lord. I knew the stories of Jesus in the Bible, I knew that Jesus was the savior and he somehow redeemed me from my sins. What I didn’t know was the Lord’s transformative power. How my life is changed by his very presence.
Back around 1993 during my internship at a V.A. hospital, I was learning to draw blood and to start I.V.’s. The hospital put us on a six week phlebotomy rotations. Early in the morning, we would arrive at the hospital to draw blood from patients on the AIDS / TB ward. We were trained intentionally on this ward because these patients generally have very difficult veins to draw blood from. My supervisors said, “By learning to draw blood on the hardest patients you become great at drawing blood on all patients.” This was good advice. One morning near the end of my rotation, I had just drawn blood from a patient. The man abruptly moved and I got stuck with the needle. This was during the height of the aids epidemic. The epidemic made daily news and at this time there were no drugs to help with the disease.
Here I am 24 years old; I just got a needle stuck from a known AIDS patient. I reported the incident and after a short counseling session I was sent home. At my apartment I found myself warn out, and worried. I felt usually tired and turned in early. In bed, I was sobbing and I cried out to Jesus to help me. No sooner than these words actually left my lips than I felt a warm feeling come over me; a feeling of reassurance in which I knew I would be just fine. I was comforted, relaxed, and fell asleep. Thanks be to God that I was never infected by the disease. This wasn’t the first time I felt the presence of God but it was the most tangible. I was transformed by this encounter and I knew from then on that Christ is with me, really with me. At this point I hadn’t been going to Church routinely and that didn’t change. I made all kinds of promises to God in my distress but I know I haven’t kept all of them. None the less I was changed and I continue to change. Looking back, even when I was young, I can’t say that I didn’t know the Lord. However, each time I encounter God, I am transformed, and I understand in a deeper way.
Samuel encounters God. He hears God’s voice calling. I hardly believed that through his time and devotion that he didn’t know God at all prior to this moment. But in this experience Samuel understands God in a new way; recognizing that he is really present with him. Our encounters with God vary. Sometimes we are comforted by our encounters, such as I was so many years ago. Other times we are convicted to do something, as Samuel was. He had to tell his mentor, the High Priest, that God was unhappy with him and his family. Even in our Gospel we find that the Pharisees are convicted.
These Pharisees are good people trying to follow the word of God as it has been revealed to them in scripture. They know that through careful observance of the law, they please God. But like so many of us, including myself, God doesn’t want us to uphold the law at all expense. Helping people and loving people, is more important than the law. This is the point that Jesus is trying to show the people around him. The law is good and Christ came to fulfill the law, not abolish it but when the law collides with the wellbeing of others, our priority should be helping others.
Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, is one of the Ten Commandments. In the scriptures, there are restrictions as to what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath; and you should not work. Work consists of just about anything you can do for a living such as, planting, plowing, reaping; shearing, spinning, dyeing, sewing; writing, erasing, building, demolition. With the many restriction, there is also an exception to save life. If you have to do something to save someone’s life you are mandated to do what is needed even if it requires breaking the sabbath.
Jesus and his disciples pluck heads of grain from the field by the road. Eating on the Sabbath is not wrong. But plucking the heads of grain is considered harvesting. So these Pharisees let Jesus know that he is not upholding the law of Sabbath. Jesus, as if a modern day preacher picking up his Bible, tells them about King David and how, on a Sabbath day, he ate the restricted food. I think Jesus was really taunting the Pharisees. His example of King David is a bit flimsy, but his point is well made; that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.” This is a true statement about all the laws. The law is made for humans, for us to better live in community with God and our neighbors. The Pharisees would know this to be true.
Jesus then picks up and moves into the synagogue where there is a man with a withered hand. Before he heals the man, Jesus asks the Pharisees if it is “good to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill.” Basically is it OK to intentionally let someone die by our inaction. Even though these Pharisees know the answer, that we are mandated to break the law if needed to save life, they will not answer Christ. Again at this very moment these Pharisees do not see any one’s life in peril. Jesus is trying to expand their understanding of the law. What effort does it really take to snack on grain hanging by the side of the road if you are hungry? What effort does it really take for Jesus to heal this man’s withered hand? Or maybe it is better to ask, are Christ’s actions distracting him from keeping the Sabbath holy or are thy actually helping him keep the Sabbath holy? I think the intent of this law is to give every man, woman, child, servant, and animal a day off so they can refocus on God and family and be refreshed for the next week’s labor.
There was a time, before kids, when I found it easy to keep a Sabbath day, but now it is hard. There is always a list of chores, meals to prepare, events to go to. I have no doubt that when we try to follow the law we will have better relationships with God and our neighbors. But keeping any of the law is difficult. Through Christ we receive grace. Over and over again we are given this grace to try to do better. We know that even with our broken promises and our constant failings we are not abandoned. Even when we are in trouble, or at our lowest times, we can experience God in our brokenness; and sometimes I think that this is when God makes himself most apparent.