We’re reading the Books of Samuel and other “historical” books of the Old Testament at Mass. The readings are wise commentaries on church and state.
We need prophets, they say, but sometimes those you expect to be prophetic don’t seem up to the task, like Eli the old priest in the sleepy temple at Shilo, who misinterprets Hannah praying for a son and is slow to see his potential successor in Samuel,
The Israelites, split as they were at the time into tribes and clans, need a prophet. The Philistines smashed them to pieces and took away the Ark of the Covenant. The Israelites scatter; every man flees “to his own tent.” 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 so absorb your attention that 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. “Boring, 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.
It seems that Pope Francis is taking on that role for our church and our world today.