We began reading the Books of Samuel this week at Mass, and we’ll continue reading from them on weekdays until we move on to the Books of Kings and other so called “historical books” of the Old Testament.
These Old Testament readings are like commentaries on church and state.
Remember how the Book of Samuel begins– in a sleepy old temple run by a sleepy old priest. Poor Anna goes to the temple at Shiloh and Eli almost throws her out because he thinks she drunk and will disturb things. She’s really praying for new life.
Anna gives birth to Samuel and sends him to stay at the temple, but when he hears God calling him the old priest tells him to go back to sleep. He’s not used to hearing voices in the night. It takes awhile before he realizes that God’s calling this young boy and finally he tells him to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel listens and Israel has a prophet again.
The Israelites need a prophet, split as they are at this time into tribes and clans. The army of the Philistines smash them to pieces and take away the Ark of the Covenant. The Jews scatter; every man flees “to his own tent,” the book of Samuel says. In bad times the temptation is always to flee to your own tent.
Then, they begin asking for a king. Let’s get a king, an army, a strategic battle plan. “That’s not going to save you,” Samuel says, ”In fact, kings, and armies and strategic battle plans can absorb your attention and you can miss hearing the Word of God.”
One message running through the historical books of the Old Testament is that we need prophets to revitalize both our religious institutions and our political institutions. Our parishes, our dioceses, our religious communities can become sleepy places. Isn’t that the complaint you hear? “It’s boring,” people say.
That same complaint can be leveled against our political institutions. David is like a Jewish George Washington, but he needs prophets like Samuel to inspire him and prophets like Nathan to correct him. Without the prophets, the people perish.
I wonder if Pope Francis isn’t taking on that role for our church and our world today.