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3/7/2002
WORD OF FAITH
God's unlikely choices
REV. ROGER KARBAN


 

 

Serious students of Scripture know our sacred writings weren't produced in the order in which we find them in the Bible. The first chapter of Genesis, for instance, was composed almost 500 years after Genesis 2 and 3.

Scholars continually try to discover how one author's theology influenced the theology of other authors and how later events determined how earlier events were narrated. This is especially true of the scene described in the first reading (I Sam 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13) and the theology the sacred authors developed from it.

We're familiar with Scripture's emphasis on Yahweh's habit of choosing a younger sibling over an older, especially in Genesis. Ishmael is Abraham's first son, yet Isaac receives Yahweh's promises. Esau comes out of Rebecca's womb before Jacob, his twin, but Jacob is given Isaac's blessing and his brother's birthright. Ruben is the oldest of Jacob's 12 sons, yet the long line of Israel's Davidic kings descend from Judah.

When written

This younger-replacing-the-older pattern only makes sense when we realize all these narratives were composed after 1,000 BCE, the year the 12 tribes of Israel chose David to be their king. In so doing, the authors were ratifying and reflecting on the choice Yahweh had made years before during the anointing ceremony narrated in the first reading.

Though the passage has been badly chopped up by those who determine our liturgical readings, the theological core remains. David is the most unkingly of Jesse's eight sons, so his father assigns him to guard the family's flocks while one of his brothers is picked to lead the Chosen people. But in a Cinderella twist, he's God's choice. Yahweh reminds Samuel, "Not as humans see does God see. Humans see the appearance; Yahweh looks into the heart."

Once David, Jesse's youngest son, is designated king, Jewish theologians are forced to revamp their theology. From that point on, they'll constantly emphasize Yahweh's refusal to follow human patterns of choice. Their stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stress that point because they were all composed after David's reign.

John, writing almost 1,100 years later, employs the same theology (Jn 9: 1-41). He never gives a reason why Jesus picks this particular blind beggar over other blind beggars. The man doesn't even ask to be cured; Jesus simply selects him.

But as the story progresses, it's clear John is more interested in the "faith-sight" which Jesus gives the man than in his physical sight. The narrative builds to the climactic statement, "`I do believe, Lord,' and he worshiped Him." This most unlikely person reaches faith in Jesus, while the religious-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain faith-blind.

Picking one

The earliest Christian preachers continually dealt with this phenomenon. They often reflected on the Spirit's choice of one individual over another. But as we hear in the second reading (Eph 5: 8-14), this reflection quickly led them to remind their audiences of the implications of being chosen.

"Brothers and sisters," Paul writes, "you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."

Like unsophisticated readers of Scripture, some of us never quite understand the chronology of our faith. We think our relationship with God starts with the responsibilities God lays on us. Going back 3,000 years, our ancestors in the faith remind us that God doesn't operate that way. Our faith-responsibilities don't start until we've been chosen. It's the latter which should prompt amazement, not the former.

We've saved and told the story of David's anointing over the centuries simply because we see our own unlikely call mirrored in his.

(03-07-02)












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