Called to Greatness: The Call of David – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramI Samuel 16:1-13

From the First Book of Samuel, that great story of the calling and anointing of David.  I’ve always really loved this story.  It’s a kind of Cinderella story.  Here are all Jesse’s sons lined up in front of the prophet Samuel.  He looks at each one in turn: which one has the Lord chosen to be king?  The first one, Eliab.  He’s tall and good-looking.  He must be the one!  But no, says God.  Never mind about his appearance or his height – he’s not the one.  Nor the next one, nor the next one.  But surely, God, this one looks perfect to be king.  No, says God – never mind what he looks like.  “For the Lord does not see as mortals see.  They look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

And none of his sons are chosen.  Are you sure there’s no one else?  Well, says Jesse, there is the youngest (or in Hebrew it can also mean the smallest or the shortest).  It couldn’t possibly be him! – and anyway he’s out with the sheep.   Bring him in!  I need to see him!  He comes in, and immediately Samuel knows‘This is the one!’  And he anoints him with oil in the presence of all his brothers, and we read “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on David from that day forward.”

Well, it’s a great story, and the reason I think I’ve always loved it is that I’m the youngest son in my family and I’ve got two older brothers.  Growing up I was always younger and shorter than them. Playing football (soccer) with them and their friends, they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re too small.  You can go in goal.  I hated being in goal and just standing around.  Boring!  You couldn’t run around with the ball.

I can only imagine what David’s older brothers must have felt when little David was chosen over them!  I think when I first read the story I probably thought, ‘Great. He’s got his own back!’

But I don’t think that’s the point of the story.  I now love the story for very different reasons. It’s a story full of hope and promise. A story of one person’s hidden gifts coming to fruition.  Here was this obscure young man, spending his days looking after sheep.  Yet, with him were the seeds of greatness!  Extraordinary seeds just waiting to come to life.  But these seeds of greatness might never have flourished.  He may have remained an obscure shepherd – had it not been for two factors.  The first was that his gifts were recognized and called out.  It needed a Samuel to name his gifts.  Without Samuel, David would likely never have recognized this in himself.

And then secondly, Samuel was also the means by which God’s spirit came upon David.  When he anointed him with oil (i.e. ordained or consecrated him), “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.”  It was Samuel who discerned David’s gifts and his vocation, called them out, and then consecrated him to his life’s work.

I think something touches us profoundly about this story because we sense a deep truth – a Kingdom truth.  In God’s Kingdom, seeds planted secretly by God grow to greatness.  A small, obscure shepherd becomes the greatest of all the kings of Israel.  And that deep truth about God’s kingdom is also about us.

In today’s gospel, Mark tells those mysterious parables about the Kingdom.  The story of the seeds growing secretly, but we don’t know how.  The story of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which grows mysteriously and wonderfully to become the greatest of all shrubs, and “puts for the large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

These stories are about David – and they’re about you and me.  First, each one of us has within us the seeds of greatness. Believe it!  We have been wonderfully created in God’s very image and likeness – and it is God’s deepest desire that those divine seeds planted within us should grow – that we may grow into our full stature as children of God to God’s glory.

I think one of the greatest tragedies in our society in this country is that so many are not able to grow into their full stature, their full glory as beloved children of God – because of what I would call ‘societal sin’: the sin of having just one beautiful life stunted or blighted or even wiped out because of that person’s poverty, race, gender, sexual orientation, class, vulnerability or disability.  I believe each of us who seek to follow Jesus has a God-given duty to be ‘Samuels’, to overcome our reluctance, as he did, to recognize and call out the seeds of greatness in one another, and then to do all that we can – by words, prayer, action – to fight against everything in our society which would prevent these precious seeds from growing and coming to fruition.

We need to call forth greatness in others, but also in ourselves.  Maybe you have in your own personal experience a deep inner sense that part of you has not yet grown as it should.  You may feel uncomfortable if I say to you “You’ve been called to greatness,” but it’s true!  God has planted a unique set of seeds within each of us, and God longs for them to grow to their full glory.  You may have had your own experience of that growth being stunted.  Perhaps at a formative stage, people put you down or discouraged you.  Perhaps your own inner voice is pouring scorn on your hopes and dreams: “Who do you think you are, shepherd boy?”

But maybe you have also had your Samuel figures in your life – that person who sawsomething in you and called it out – perhaps a teacher, a coach, a friend, who encouraged you and gave you a vision for who you might become.  Who said, “Go for it!  You can do it!”

Then thirdly, the most profound part of the story of David happens at the end.  Samuel anoints him and we read, “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that time forward.”  Just as the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Mary that she might give birth to Jesus, so the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David that he might become Israel’s greatest king.  And so the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon you and me at our baptisms, that we might grow into the full stature of children of God.

It is an extraordinary thought that God’s Spirit has come mightily upon us – and not just once, at our baptisms, but as with David, “from that day forward!”  We each have that Spirit now –a great power which we can all upon every day.  Call out that power! Come, Holy Spirit!  And that Spirit, like the sun and the rain, will help the seeds which God has planted deep within us to grow and flourish.

God is calling us to grow – every day – to become more and more that unique and beautiful person whom God has called each of us to be.  We are called to greatness!  Don’t settle for anything less!

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  1. Julie on June 24, 2023 at 09:00

    Beautifully said! Thank you! As a math teacher, I want my scholars to learn math, but my overwhelming desire is to be a “Samuel” in their life – believing in them and helping them to believe in themselves.

  2. MIchael on June 6, 2022 at 17:12

    The message feels so overwhelming at times (most of the time)

  3. Elizabeth Hardy on June 9, 2020 at 10:14

    Looking at Susan Marie’s comment from last year, so true. We always need to affirm something in the other – there is always something to affirm. Affirmation from others has saved me from believing what we were told by my mother when we were children “You are just mediocre so don’t go putting yourself up, or showing off, just keep at it and don’t expect anything special.” Looking back now I see how damaging that remark was for me. The Samuels in my life have helped me look past that, although it lingers even now. This homily was part of healing for me. Thank you Br. Geoffrey. Elizabeth Hardy+

    • SusanMarie on June 7, 2022 at 07:55

      Yes, remarks like that are indeed damaging. I have spent years getting past the things my mother told I could never do, be, or wasn’t. I can’t now think of any of her negative, pessimistic comments that were true or helpful. When I found more and more people in my life who saw the gifts, talents, and possibilities within me, I began to realize I had a choice about what and whom to listen. And that’s not necessarily all the “good” things or the compliments. I learned to listen to my own inner authority, which is God-in-me. It takes time and attention and intention to pick out that voice among all the others, and yet it’s also true that God speaks through others. It’s a long journey of undoing, but I’ve mostly put those negative and baseless assessments behind me and listen for the Creator’s voice about who I am, what I can do, and what’s true in my life. Just recently I made two comments to my spiritual director — one about my life and the other about something in my life that I believed. She questioned me about both and I struggled to justify either one. She asked me when I started believing these things and I sighed and said, “When my mother told me.” One of these things was said to me when I was 18, the other when I was 30. I am nearly 62 years old! Lesson learned long ago: there is always something to affirm! Negative comments are rarely helpful to anyone especially since we’re looking at the “other” from our point of view!

  4. Robert Marriott on June 9, 2020 at 02:59

    Thanks for sharing this reflection again – so close to Trinity Sunday too when we have been thinking about Father, Son and the work of the Spirit. In this Spirit there is indeed confidence to be truely who we are and name and act on that in ourselves and others.

  5. marta engdahl on June 18, 2019 at 23:21

    I find that the blessing of aging is to know that we still have value, strengths, wisdom, and kindness to grow into a closer walk with God. AND, we are given the time to find our values and graces to grow into a closer relationship in our families, and friends. Thank you so much for showing us, reminding us that God chooses each one of us to grow into His Love and flourish in spite of what the world may think. Unseen treasures we can become!

  6. Patricia on June 12, 2019 at 21:44

    Thank you. I needed this affirmation – as I need most of the Brothers’ reflections. I am getting older
    and in general people seem to think after a certain age people have no more to contribute.

    • Connie on June 6, 2022 at 09:12

      Patricia, I too, am getting older and understand where you’re coming from. I’ve decided that tho I am getting older, I’m not “old”.
      Just a thought.

  7. SusanMarie on June 12, 2019 at 07:04

    I have discovered some of my best gifts through people who saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. And also through those who asked me to do something and when my answer was filled with doubt, they said, “Of course you can!”. We need more affirmers in this world, in this life. From my own experiences I have learned to affirm others and it is a beautiful thing to watch another blossom in part because of my affirmation toward them.

    I also found your understanding of the connection of Samuel finding the “hidden treasure” of David to the stories of Kingdom in Mark’s Gospel very interesting and revealing. Thank you!

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