Read the text here: I Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
The people had demanded a King and the prophet Samuel, the last of the Judges, had anointed Saul to be King over this tribal confederation that was called Israel. Now, at last, the people had a King, like the other nations that surrounded and threatened Israel’s security. Now, at last, a King would unify the country, provide the security they all craved and lead the people to be faithful to Yahweh. Well, that was the expectation at least. But, somehow things didn’t quite work out the way they expected. The Philistines, the Amalekites and others were constantly attacking Israel so that it seemed like Israel was never secure and always at war. And when not leading the army Saul preferred to return to his farm in the land of the tribe of Benjamin. No central government, no palace, no center of worship. In short, King Saul was a total disappointment. He just wasn’t the kind of King the people wanted. And more importantly, he was not the kind of King that either Samuel or Yahweh had expected him to be.
This part of the story that is in our text for today brings the kingship of King Saul to a climax. It is most profoundly a story of expectations – great expectations that are not met. Saul fails to meet the expectations of Yahweh and the people, but he is the anointed King and Samuel expects that that should count for something and initially resists the call to anoint a replacement. This calling to find a new King was not what Samuel expected at all. So Samuel travels south and shows up in Bethlehem surprising the elders with his presence. (A visit from a high-ranking court official is never good news for a little village like Bethlehem.) So Samuel (with the help of Yahweh) has created a story to cover the real reason for his visit. It is not exactly a lie, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth. We would not have expected God’s prophet to act in such a typically political manner (with Yahweh’s assistance and blessing no less!!!). And then comes the examination. What a Kingly looking man is Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, surely this is the one who is chosen. Not so, Yahweh tells Samuel for Yahweh examines the heart and pays no attention to outward appearances. All of the adult male children of Jesse are rejected, this was certainly not what Samuel expected. “Are there any others?” asks an exasperated Samuel. “Just the brat little brother who is out watching the sheep,” comes the response. “Well, call him in,” commands Samuel. And lo and behold here is the one. This child, who is maybe as young as 11, is anointed the new King of Israel. Who would have thought? This is not what we expected at all. And, of course, this sweet child David goes on to be a great and terrible King who is deeply flawed, selfish, murderous and lustful. This is not what was expected either.
This is first of all a political text and since we are in the midst of a political year we must also allow this text to point out to us that we are sometimes very much like the fickle people of Israel. We “anoint” our political leaders with great enthusiasm and excitement and we expect them to accomplish great and wonderful things and at the same time be completely beyond reproach. And then, 2 or 4 or 6 years later we look at them and are disappointed because they didn’t accomplish all that they promised, and they had this or that moral failing and they didn’t fix the problems which have been years and years in the making. And our expectations are disappointed and we look to the other party or a newer, younger more exciting candidate who we then “anoint.” And the pattern repeats. We really need to look no further than presidential politics to see this pattern being played out over and over again. And then follow the theme down the line through all of the other political positions. Perhaps part of the problem is our expectations themselves. Perhaps part of the problem is our tendency to “anoint” and then sit back and wait to see what will happen next; our tendency to judge on the basis of our own narrow self-interest. But we must recognize what the Old Testament prophets are constantly proclaiming: namely, that we have a responsibility to others, especially those who are struggling, suffering, hungry, sick or lost. Therefore, we need to find ways to determine if those who desire to be “anointed” have the heart to care for others, the patience to listen, the wisdom to consider various options (not just their own or their small constituents positions) and the courage to compromise and make hard decisions that benefit all of the people.
This issue of frustrated expectations is not only a political issue. It is one with which we ourselves struggle. We have all had the experience of having great expectations frustrated. Perhaps it was a new job or a relationship, or a person who we look up to. Others are expecting great things from us; perhaps we are expecting great things of ourselves or others. But we don’t measure up, and others are disappointed in us. Or the new job turns out to be not so great after all, and the new relationship turns out to be flawed because this person doesn’t really meet our expectations; or this mentor, coach, pastor, friend turns out to be human with faults that we did not expect. We look back on our lives and can only see a string of unfulfilled expectations, broken dreams and disappointments. And so we are disappointed in ourselves or maybe we blame others for our own shortcomings.
But there is another issue that is important here when we talk about expectations and that is forgiveness. In our text today all of the expectations of all of the human characters are disappointed. No one measures up in this story. That should tell us something. Perhaps we have expectations that are too high for ourselves and others. Perhaps we need to rethink our expectations and add in a measure of grace and forgiveness. Is it possible? Can we forgive those who disappoint us? Can we forgive ourselves for not measuring up to our own expectations? Can we look beyond our pre-conceptions and expectations to recognize the gifts that this person, job, relationship brings? Can we see that we too can look back and see that there is much to celebrate in our lives. Despite what we expected, we have accomplished many things and others have been touched in deep and profound ways by their contact with us. We have made a contribution to the world. God has been at work through us! Ultimately, this text calls upon us to celebrate that because of Jesus, the anointed, now we are all anointed in our Baptism as members of God’s family. Our anointing brings with it forgiveness and grace which then empowers us to move beyond the narrow limited expectations we and others place upon us and helps us to claim our heritage as God’s sons and daughters.