Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent – First Reading Reflections

We can look at today's first reading, 1 Samuel 1b, 6-7, 10-13a, on several different levels using an interpretive technique called typology. Typology looks for, and usually finds, prefigurations of Christ, the Church, the sacraments, Christian life, and Heaven in the Old Testament (and for the last four, in the New Testament as well). God's plan of salvation (or divine economy) is revealed gradually throughout history, and typology discovers the unity of this salvific plan as it explores the relationships between different parts of the Biblical canon.

Let's apply this to our reading. On the literary-historical level of the text, we have a story about the anointing of David by Samuel. This is very important in itself. Typology does not dismiss or diminish the literary-historical significance of the text; instead, it shows us deeper and broader meanings in the Bible. So we have Samuel, sent by God to anoint a new king from the sons of Jesse. He took a look at the oldest boy, Eliab, and thought he was just right for the job. God, however, did not, for He could see into Eliab's heart while Samuel merely saw Eliab's splendid outward appearance. Samuel went through each of Jesse's seven eldest sons in this manner without finding the new king. Finally, probably near desperation, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons hiding anywhere. Jesse remarked that there was still the youngest boy who was off tending the sheep. Samuel sent for him, and when the young David arrived, God told Samuel, “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” Jesse and his other seven sons were probably shocked to see Samuel anoint this young boy. Anointing was a powerful act in the Old Testament. Only priests, prophets, and kings were anointed in this way, so Samuel's gesture indicated that David was to become at least one of these. In fact, David became all three throughout his life. We see by this reading, then, that God does not chose as man does; He goes beyond appearance and judges based on the heart. This in itself is a very valuable lesson.

We can move deeper into the meaning of the reading, however, by using typology. We can, for instance, see David as a type or prefiguration of Jesus. Like David, Jesus would probably have been voted “least likely to be king” for most of His life. He was a carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary as far as anyone knew, and a resident of a small, insignificant village. Also like David, Jesus was anointed, only for Jesus, that happened at his baptism, and it was accomplished not by a prophet like Samuel but by the Holy Spirit. Jesus' anointing also revealed Him as Priest, Prophet, and King. Jesus, the Son of David, as He is often called, certainly surpassed His ancestor, but typology shows us the links between them and helps us see the unity of God's plan of salvation.

Let's take our typological reading one step further. Like David and Jesus, Christians are also anointed, both at baptism and at confirmation. Each and every one of us shares in Jesus' priesthood, prophetic office, and kingship. We are all anointed, set apart, and marked as priests, prophets, and kings! That's pretty amazing, really. All baptized Christians have been anointed with oil, just like David was anointed by Samuel, and we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, too, following in the footsteps of Jesus.

This little exercise in typological interpretation hardly scratches the surface of today's first reading, but it does show how typology can enrich our exploration of the Bible and help us reach new insights into God's plan for our salvation and His great love for us.

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