The Pains of Parenthood (1 Samuel 3)
Today I want to talk about Eli. This chapter reveals to us a great deal of family drama. Eli’s sons committed some sort of blasphemy. God had already spoken to Eli and warned him. But Eli did not restrain his sons, instead relaying on sacrifices and offerings. And now God spoke to Eli again through Samuel.
Before judging Eli for not submitting to the word of God and pointing fingers at him for the sins that his sons were committing, I want us to pause. How many parents in our congregations could relate to Eli’s troubles with his kids? How many of parents will understand that restraining adult children from something is not that easy? I want us to have sympathy for Eli, to see his side of the story. Let’s just for a minute envision what he was going through. He knows his children act against the will of God and are bringing destruction upon themselves and the entire family. He probably talked to them on multiple occasions, but they did not listen and carried on with their own stuff. Eli cried, he prayed, he offered sacrifices and offerings. How many nights did he spend praying for them? Just pause here, fill in the blanks, and feel his pain and utter hopelessness.
On that night Eli knew that God spoke to Samuel. Call it a gut feeling or a parent intuition or an educated guess, but Eli suspected something. He reassures Samuel not to be afraid, not to hold back anything and tell him exactly what God said. That in itself takes courage. It is easier at times to stick our head in the sand and simply not know and hope for the best. But Eli wanted to know. He was ready to face whatever it was that God prepared for them. Since God has already spoken to Eli about his sons and the punishment for their sins, this message was not a surprise, but more of a confirmation of Eli’s worst fears. The judgement is coming on his house and there is nothing to stop it.
Eli’s reaction to the message is astounding: “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (v. 18) Facing God’s judgement and punishment, Eli affirms God’s authority and goodness! There is no cursing of the children, no begging God for mercy, no trading with God on the years that Eli spent faithfully serving at the Temple. None of that. God is the Lord, and holds the power and authority over all living. What God does, is ultimately good. It may not seem like it to Eli, his whole house, or definitely his sons, but in the grand scheme of events God does good by punishing them.
By no means do I try to take away the responsibility that Eli had at restraining his children and stopping their blasphemous behavior. But also, I know that as a parent we do not have as much power over our children as sometimes we wish we had. And I also feel Eli’s pain as he faces God’s punishment on himself and his children for something he probably could not prevent. Amidst this paralyzing pain, Eli stands firm in his faith and pronounces God’s ultimate goodness.
What a heartbreaking lesson on faith!
Whose Body? (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
I have become accustomed to interpreting this text as “don’t fornicate, don’t do drugs, don’t drink, don’t smoke” teaching. Today I am turning it on its head and shifting the focus of my interpretation. Have you noticed how v. 15 puts to the forefront the holiness of a (predominantly) male body while vilifying the prostitute? In today’s world we know that it is not all that simple.
First, how many sex workers have been raped, trafficked, beaten, threatened, and subdued into prostitution? I want all the johns out there, especially the self-righteous kind, to look at the prostitute’s body as a temple of the Holy Spirit within them which she or he received from God (v. 19), bought with a price (not the one that their pimp has collected) for the purpose of glorifying God in their body (v.20). It does not matter if a john paid $20 or $2000, that body is not his, not even for a moment. Let’s reconstruct the ultimate value and the beautiful purpose we are created for and claim it out of destruction, violence, and oppression.
Second, we can take this text further and address it not just to johns, but to all the privileged and powerful men who build up their self-inflated ego by harassing and assaulting those under them. Yes, #metoo. When someone’s career is in your hands, their bodies are not meant for your power games and pleasures. And if you do lay your hands on them and penetrate them (physically or emotionally), then you are the prostitute Paul described. “Shun fornication!” (v. 18) As a society, we have made some baby steps in that direction, but we have a long way to go.
Because God Knows (Psalm 139)
This week I choose the entire Psalm, including vs. 19-24. I don’t like cherry-piking verses and breaking up the integrity of the text. Praising God’s omniscience and personal closeness to us appears next to the anger and hatred. It is so human! So us! When we put in conversation 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and this psalm, the justice of God appears on the side of the victims. Eli’s tragedy could also be reflected in this psalm, especially vs. 17-18:
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end —I am still with you.
I pray that God guides you in your preparations and speaks the truth through you to your congregations on Sunday! Amen.
Cover image is depiction by William de Brailes, source.