(A Lection Reflection on 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13, Ezekiel 17:22-24, and Mark 4:26-34)
I love the Onion. So, when they put out a faux compilation of their work across the 20th century entitled “Our Dumb Century,” I had to have a copy.
On the last page, there is a news story entitled “All Corporations Merge Into Omnicorp.” It makes you laugh (ruefully) because you know that becoming bigger and more powerful through merger is a common tactic in business. Why do companies do this? Because size=might and might=right. It’s self-evident in our world: if you’re big, it’s because you’re the best, and therefore you should be in charge.
I can hear some readers now, saying “I don’t think that way.” No? Who gets asked to speak at your meetings? Who does workshops on successful church work? Who gets written up in magazines? The pastors and staff of the mega-churches, right?
Note that I’m not saying that big=bad, or that growth and success cannot be trusted. Instead, I’m just pointing out the central truth of our lections this week:
God sometimes, even oft-times, chooses to use the least significant persons among us to do God’s work. And that has implications that we need to consider as we try to do God’s work ourselves.
We all know the story of the anointing of David. Samuel goes to the family of Jesse and invites everyone to a sacrifice and feast. While there, he looks over the sons of Jesse, seeking the one that God is going to make the new king. When none of them are the right one, he asks Jesse if all of his sons are there, and Jesse says, “No, we left the youngest to tend the sheep.” And of course, it’s that youngest son, David, that is chosen to be the next king. (Eventually. More on that in a bit.)
We also are familiar with the parable that Jesus told, comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. That very small seed, in the right soil conditions, can grow to be a pretty big tree, providing shade and fruit.
And finally, there is the Ezekiel passage, where God says that God will take a tender sprig from the top of a cedar tree, and will plant it and nurture it, and it will become a mighty cedar in its own right, on the top of the mountain.
I think there are four truths here, one of which is pretty obvious, but three of which might be not as intuitive.
1. God often takes the smallest, youngest, most overlooked and inconsequential among us, and calls them to do great work for the Kingdom. We know this, but it’s good to be reminded every now and then.
2. The time between the calling and the great work can sometimes be long, and during that time the key thing is nurture. Note that David had a long way to go before he finally became King David of Israel. The mustard seed didn’t just pop up out of the ground overnight — it was planted and grew, and in its season it produced the fruit. And the cedar sprig was tended by God from planting to mighty tree.
3. If we want to see the Kingdom come, it is our job to scatter and plant lots of seeds, tend them over time as they mature, and give them space to grow and to become all they are called to be.
4. And finally, we have to be careful not to look at the children of Jesse with our earthly eyes. At the seed or sprig or young boy stage, it’s not possible to pick out which one is going to become the mighty tree or mighty adult. That dorky kid in youth choir may grow up to be the next influential author, or the leader of an important non-profit, or a pastor who builds an outpost of the Kingdom in an unlikely place. We need to remember David the boy, and twigs, and seeds.
How about you? Has there been a time where God chose from “the least of these”? Share your own examples in the comments!