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Be Careful What You Ask For

Readings for Pentecost II - Year B

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

Psalm 138

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Be Careful What You Ask For

This passage from Samuel reminds me of what many of our parents have cautioned: “Be careful what you ask for.”

Hold onto that thought.

On to Samuel.

He was back in his home city, the birthplace that he had left as a child.

In thanks for finally being blessed with a son after childless years, his parents had offered the boy to Eli, at the sanctuary at Shiloh.

Remember the wonderful story of young Samuel repeatedly hearing his name called a night? Thinking it was Eli he kept going to his mentor. “No,” Eli told the eleven-year-old, “I didn’t call for you.”

“If it happens again, answer “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’”

I find that such a wonderful story, reflecting the pure energy of an earnest lad.

Now, though, Samuel the prophet is old, and home once more. Elders, presumably not as aged – and certainly not as wise – come to him with a plan… a request.

Samuel’s two sons, Joel and Abijah – whom he had named as leaders – have turned out to as worthless as those of his own predecessor Eli.

The elders note this to Samuel and implore him to name a king for them, just as the neighboring nations have.

“We want to be like Mike,” they might as well have said.

Samuel is not persuaded that this is a particularly good idea – having a king govern them like other nations.

He prayerfully asks God for guidance. The answer he receives is, “Well, they certainly are no longer following me as their Lord. Let them have their way.”

Samuel accedes to the voice of the people – the vox pop. After warning them of the consequences of wanting a king instead of following the Lord, he settles on Saul.

All did not go well – Saul falls out of favor with the Lord, and Samuel seeks a replacement, selecting David to be king.

…to be continued.

What we have before us today is a fascinating story of intrigue and putting one’s desire above wisdom.

I find the take-away to be this: be careful what you ask for.

We are surrounded by examples of people following desires and will. After all, we have been given free will in this life on Earth. However, it is given to us to use wisely.

We see the excess engagement of our own desires and devices on a personal level – maybe even in our own lives.

It is abundantly apparent on a public, and a political plane.

One has but to point to my own home country, the United States, to find examples of willfulness leading to unanticipated – and unwanted – results.

But there are plenty of other illustrations of humans following their own perceived needs – actions that really amount to unvarnished desires.

There is a global climate heating up faster than scientists tell us is safe.

Our sometimes insatiable wishes to have what we want – when we want it – is causing disorder in the lives of others in many ways. Think of the environment, or of abuse of less powerful folks – or of children.

Be careful what you ask for.

Where can we go to get direction and guidance on recognizing what is purely our own will at work?

Afterall, the elders in the reading today thought they were doing the right thing. They knew they needed to toss Samuel’s incompetent sons and get on a better path. They were ready to move from tribe to nation.

The elders reasoned that a king was in order. Yes! We need a king! Wasn’t that working for others nearby?

What they failed to do is take into account that they were following their own wishes. They were not listening to God.

But Samuel was.

Samuel the prophet heard God saying that the people of Israel had turned from God. Fine.

Let them go on their way believing that they are in control and that all will work out.

God, in God’s wisdom, understood that the ingrates were determined to have it their way.

Through God’s action of drawing back, the message was clear: Be careful what you ask for.

Whenever a question is posed in the Bible, we can also find an answer. It is not by coincidence that Psalm 138 is paired with the Old Testament reading.

I believe that it offers us advice and direction. The psalmist is giving thanks to God, offering praise for the love and faithfulness God is offering.

When I called, you answered me; * you increased my strength within me.

Those are compelling, comforting words. The entire psalm recognizes our role – as children of God – to our Creator.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; * you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.

If… if we can learn to recognize our human willfulness and step back from its excesses. If we can open our hearts to what God truly is calling us to do – and that is to give thanks, be faithful, and put God’s word above all things, there are no worries.

We will never have to be careful about what we ask for.

The requests we make, the things we ask for will align with God’s desires for us – and not our own human willfulness.

THAT is grace.


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