Reflections on the Second Sunday after Penetecost (Proper 9 Year B)

1 SAMUEL 3:1-10 (11-20); PSALM 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 CORINTHIANS 4:5-12; MARK 2:23-3:6

“Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10

One might be tempted to identify God himself as the deepest mystery of faith. In our times, being able to hold on to a worldview and way of making sense of reality that includes belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, invisible yet revealed may seem increasingly uncommon. But ordering one’s life around love in such a way is no less life-giving than ever.

I entered the room and the lights were low. A voice spoke softly. “Al, I love you.” It was Al and Mary in the room. The doctor had shared with Mary that it would only be a day or two now. The recent period of declining health had brought Al into Hospice care. “Al, I love you,” Mary said again, quietly.

This couple had been married for over five decades. When they married Al worked a construction job. Mary was the homemaker who enjoyed giving attention to the small but important details. It was the 1960's and life seemed simple enough. Soon came the announcement that a baby was on the way. Their first daughter was born. Life changed. Mary and Al had to give up the freedom they enjoyed as newlyweds. They had new responsibilities, and they seemed to be the perfect little family. A couple of years went by and another announcement – a second girl. Resources were tight enough but so wasn’t the family. Some necessary adjustments and sacrifice and they were four. Another year and number three, a boy was more of a challenge. How would a three-bedroom, post-war bungalow accommodate? But dreams of a back porch combined with a new bedroom came to be, and then there were five.
The oldest had just graduated from high school when the diagnosis came. Al had multiple sclerosis. He would begin several decades with the disease that slowly chipped away at his physical abilities. Mary had gone to work for the first time since high school and loved it. But becoming the breadwinner wasn’t without its challenges. A colleague asked her one day if it was what she had signed up for. Her answer: “I do whatever I need to do.”

“Al, I love you.” When Mary and Al had stood in the little church back home and answered the question “Will you?” with “I will,” neither of them knew what would come. The commitment they made to one another was for a lifetime. Our most important commitments are like that. Love is like that.

When the boy Samuel heard the voice in the night call to him, “Samuel, Samuel,” he first thought it was his mentor. Old Eli told Samuel that when you hear this again, say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” The message was for Eli and for the house of Israel – a word of harsh judgment. A word of challenge. God was about to punish Eli and the nation for their misdeeds, their blaspheming, their iniquity, wickedness, sin. Samuel was learning early that loving is seldom easy. Even though it may begin with hopeful excitement and joyful expectation, it would require something of him too.

The disciples were walking through the grainfield. We’re not told if they casually and unintentionally brushed the heads of wheat that day, grabbing a snack to curb the hunger of the moment. But it was the Sabbath. Pharisees looked on and immediately saw a violation of the age-old law.

We often find it easy to criticize the Pharisees. We blame them for their legalism and nitpicking the letter of the Law. But maybe we shouldn’t judge them just yet. It’s early in the Gospel of Mark. The Pharisees loved God. They had learned through years of study and service – sacrifice, that the way to love the Lord our God was to do as God commands. The law as it was revealed and delivered was complicated and extensive. Ten Commandments only hit the highlights. What about the Sabbath? To rest from work is a commandment. It includes instruction about the what and when to be sure but more importantly, like every rule, behind it is a good reason why. We are commanded to rest because we need it. But it's more than that. It’s also family time, a time to restore relationships, and do that which revives both body and soul. These days stores are open 24/7, hockey tournaments are strategically scheduled on Sundays, mobile phones dinging and danging at all hours of the day and night, and most weeks are packed full of trying to do it all. Sabbath convenience for us means work for someone else. The jury is still out. There’s a cost we haven’t yet counted. Pharisees loved God and they showed it by doing what God commanded.

Jesus was not about redefining the Law. He came not to abolish but to fulfill.

Jesus was not about redefining the Law. He came not to abolish but to fulfill. But he did bring a needed emphasis to the why. He upheld the importance of the spirit of the Law not just its letter. A re-focus on the why of a commitment may mean adjustment, change, reorientation, and almost always, sacrifice.

“Al, I love you.” Mary was there to the very end. Her words were perhaps the last Al heard before his eyes closed for the final time. They were far from empty. In them was the why of the commitments by which they both lived their lives. The commitments we make to love God, the commitments we make to love one another require sacrifice. They require adaptation, change, and giving. The commitments are not about us, they are almost always about the other and the greatest mystery may be, that we are the better for them. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”


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