|1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 89:20, 21-22, 27-28
Folktales the world over abound in stories of mistaken identity. A pauper is actually a prince, a disheveled American Indian boy is really a star who fell from the sky, an old man is in fact Santa Claus, and a destitute beggar turns out to be Jesus Christ.
The scriptures today talk of two mistaken identities: one of person and the other of custom.
In the reading from the book of Samuel the prophet is given the task on finding the next king of Israel. But Samuel keeps picking out the wrong person! God has to keep telling him: Not that one! Why? Because Samuel is looking only at the outside and only in the present! It is God who reads our hearts and sees all our potentials. So God guides Samuel to the correct choice: the hidden one (out tending the sheep), the youngest one, the most distant one, and the least likely one.
In the Gospel from Mark the Pharisees misidentify the law, picking a lower law over a higher one. They are fixated on the proper observance of the Sabbath. But they mistake the intent of law: not to restrict but to give life. So when Jesusí disciples begin gathering food to respond to their own hunger the Pharisees choose the wrong law to invoke in this instance! There is a higher law at work and Jesus points it out to them, like any good lawyer, through precedent. The Sabbath gives life so one must do what is life enhancing on the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is for us, not us for the Sabbath.
When I was growing up my mother was very big on invoking ďthe benefit of the doubt.Ē She normally insisted that we add this to all our youthful rash judgments and impetuous decisions. Ignatius of Loyola tells us always to put the best interpretation on things. I doubt Ignatius was as good a cook as my mother but I think they had the same idea going there and itís one we find in these readings.
We take great comfort in certitude, donít we? Yet the readings tell us to stop, think, and act carefully. Doubt can be an incredible grace indeed. God puts doubt into the mind of Samuel to prevent him from choosing the wrong king. Jesus puts doubt in the minds of the Pharisees to invite them to humanize the law and understand more deeply what the Sabbath is about.
Oddly enough it is in the grace of doubt and its many benefits that we can see people differently, that we can open our hearts to new experiences, that we can even change how we act in the world.
When I was a kid I did not see doubt as a benefit and was usually annoyed at my motherís remonstrations. But now I do see it as a blessing and I doubt I could have ever gotten along without it!
In those folk stories the people who finally see the heroes and heroines for who they really are usually do so by doubting what they see on the surface and thus opening themselves to who these people REALLY are. When doubt is a process thorough which we pass rather than a defense against the world or a perpetual state of being it can truly be blessed. It can be a grace that helps us find the true king of Israel or guides us to live Godís law to the fullest.
May God bless us all through our doubt!
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