“God’s ways are not our ways”
Sunday 17 June 2018
I spoke last week about how God had reluctantly given the Israelites kings according to the narrative in the First Book of Samuel. I also claimed that the subsequent evidence contained in the Old Testament showed that the kingship proved to be a mightily flawed institution that failed God and the people dismally.
Today’s reading gives us immediate testimony of this failure of kingship. Our reading today began: “Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And, the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Kingship had fallen at the first hurdle. The first king of Israel failed the people; failed God. “And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” You need to read the chapters from 11 to 15 yourselves to see how this judgement of failure against Saul was reached.
And plainly, Samuel felt a sense of guilt or failure about the whole matter, as he had been the one who had been responsible for taking the people’s call for a king to God, and he had made Saul king. He appears to have gone off to sulk.
But God calls him out of his despair and sends him to the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint one of his sons as the next king.
Not surprisingly, Samuel is not all that keen about the task. He knows Saul well enough to realise that running around the place anointing rival kings to replace him was a dangerous sport. God then suggests a suitable cover for Samuel’s journey.
God tells Samuel to go on the pretext that he wants to sacrifice a heifer to the Lord. It was then just a simple matter of inviting Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice so that his true intentions would be invisible to Saul and his spies.
This ruse obviously worked, but then the plan struck a major snag. As Jesse paraded his sons before Samuel, the Lord kept rejecting them, despite the impressive physical stature of some of them. We need to remember that the king would not be someone cosseted away in a palace. The king of Israel would need to be a warrior, able to lead and inspire his troops in battle. At least, that’s what Samuel had thought at first, and presumably, Jesse as well. I say this because Jesse did not even bother to show his youngest son, David, to Samuel.
But in another striking example of the fact that “God’s ways are not our ways”, it is the young shepherd boy that God tells Samuel to anoint as king.
And this notion that “God’s ways are not our ways” is also at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and proclamation of the kingdom of God. In the gospel reading, we have two parables of Jesus that eloquently reinforce for us that “God’s way” – the way of the spreading of the kingdom, does not necessarily coincide with “our ways” – our preconceived notions of what should or shouldn’t be the case for the will of God.
We can often become disconsolate and even impatient that our churches are not full, that our civil society is not guided by Christian values, and that God does not seem to be taken seriously by a large number of people today. Many around us seem to be convinced that God does not even exist.
And there is no doubt that God calls us through Baptism to be bearers of the message of the kingdom of God to the world at large. So, when we try to do that and seem to keep hitting brick walls, we can become impatient with God and ourselves. But, “God’s ways are not our ways” and a little reflection upon the parables in today’s gospel reading might help us to view the situation a little more calmly.
The first parable draws upon the fact that in Jesus’ time, little was known about the mechanics of the growth of plant life. So, when a farmer scattered seed, there was little knowledge of what was taking place to lead that seed to become a plant and bear heads of grain in due season. From the point of view of the farmer, the growing just went on whether he slept or whether he was awake.
We can take consolation from the parable that we don’t have to know how God goes about using our efforts to grow the kingdom of God. We have only to fulfil our role – that of the scatterer of the seed of the word of God through our words and actions, and God provides the growth. It is not for us to know the wherefore. It is only for us to trust in the action of God. It is God’s work to cause the growth of the kingdom. It is not for us to decide how fast it should be.
The second parable draws on the unlikely image of an individual sowing mustard seeds. It is unlikely because the mustard bush was a pest in minds of Jesus’ hearers. Why would any rational person go sowing mustard seeds in a field? It was hard enough to get rid of it when it sprang up unannounced all the time and took over valuable growing soil in fields without propagating it.
The clear inference for Jesus’ audience would have been that the kingdom of God will spread like a pest weed that is being sown in the fields. There will be no way to stop it from growing uncontrollably and taking over the ground. Taken in association with the previous parable, the parable of the mustard seed provides us with the consolation that nothing is going to stop the spread and growth of the kingdom of God. It will take over like a virulent weed that is not only not being controlled, but which is actually being propagated.
Here is a great reason for our consolation. “God’s way is not our way.” Rather than adopting a defeatist attitude in the face of the apparent unwillingness of our society to receive and live the gospel of Jesus, the readings today tell us that we should be of good heart. In ways that we cannot comprehend, God is growing the kingdom and nothing is able to prevent its nurture.
As we enter into the liturgy of the Eucharist, we can do so with joy and confidence and thanksgiving that we have been invited into the kingdom of God and that we are privileged to be bearers of the gospel to others with whom we interact in daily lives.
Let us pray
you are the power behind all things:
behind the energy of the storm,
behind the heat of a million suns.
you are the power behind all minds:
behind the ability to think and reason,
behind all understanding of the truth.
you are the power behind the cross of Christ:
behind the weakness, the torture and the death,
behind unconquerable love.
we worship and adore you. Amen
The Reverend Allan Paulsen
St Matthew’s, Holland Park