1 Samuel 16.1-13
An advertising campaign for a famous perfume is urging us to buy perfume for a Mothers' Day gift with the slogan - “A Yummier Mummy”. I found myself wondering if this is entirely appropriate. Should we be encouraged to think of Mummies as 'yummy'? And who, exactly, is supposed to think that Mummy is 'yummy' anyway?
This week's Old Testament lesson doesn't seem entirely appropriate either. First, there is Samuel's disloyalty in anointing a new king while the old one is still on the throne. Generally the Bible is opposed to this kind of thing, urging us to obey the properly constituted authorities whenever we can. But, of course, there are limits.
German Christians traditionally believed very firmly in the idea of loyalty to their government, but this tradition was severely tested in the Twentieth Century. Their example proves that sometimes it can indeed be right to break the law as Samuel did. Eventually, in the 1940s, a handful of German Christians actually conspired to overthrow their government by force. Less controversially, it was Christian-inspired civil disobedience which later brought communist East Germany to an end.
Second, there is the issue of whether God judges by appearances. At first 1 Samuel seems clear that God does not. When Samuel sees Jesse's eldest son, a strong and mature warrior, Samuel naturally assumes that he is the one whom God has chosen to be anointed as the new king. But not so. It is the shepherd boy, whom his father had judged to be so insignificant that he didn't even send for him to meet the great prophet, who is the new king whom Samuel has been sent to find. However, the Bible wants to have it both ways. David may be puny compared to his brothers, but he is still ruddy and handsome, with beautiful eyes – a yummy kind of king after all!
Is this passage a none too subtle dig at values and mores of which the writer strongly disapproves and which he thinks are shameful, even though most people seem to live by them? Or is it really a plea for integrity?
So often our politicians are caught out doing things in private or in secret which they should be ashamed about if the stern searchlight of publicity were turned upon them. This seems to be particularly the case when it comes to the way they handle their expenses. What is called for here is the kind of integrity which Ephesians describes.
But none of us is without fault. How often do we allow ourselves to indulge in behaviour which doesn't fit with what we publicly profess to believe as Christians?
This passage raises some fundamental questions about Jesus and his opponents. Who is really living in darkness, whether they know it or not? And who can cast light on the situation and bring glory to God? Sometimes, as with the choice of David as the new king of Israel, things are not as obvious as they might first seem.
What we need, as we thread our way carefully through life's many challenges and pitfalls, is the discernment to recognise what is right and the integrity to do it.