1 Samuel 16:1-13
I admit it. I’ve done it. I’ve done it more than once. I’ve done it repeatedly. And even though I have tried to stop, I still do it. I still assess others by their appearance: that one’s old; that one’s homeless; that one’s athletic; that one’s got it all together; and so on. I assess complete strangers this way. I also assess those I actually know in this way. Somehow, I think that my magic mind can know and understand important and intimate things about a person just by looking at their outer appearance. Even more dangerous is that I think I actually know these things about them just from a look.
Of course, most of the time, all of this assessing…one might say judging…happens at a subconscious level. It happens so automatically, and I form my opinions so quickly, that I don’t even notice I’m doing it – unless I make a point of paying attention to it.
Is this familiar to you? Do you also form opinions about who a person is just by looking at them?
In today’s lesson, Samuel has been sent by God to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, because God has told Samuel that God’s choice for Israel’s next king is one of Jesse’s sons. As Eliab passes by, Samuel looks at him and says to God, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look upon outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Young David, Jesse’s youngest, was out in the fields tending his sheep. He may not have even known what was going on at home, that God’s judge and prophet, Samuel, was going to anoint Israel’s next king. I think he didn’t know. After all, if he did, wouldn’t he have been there watching as his seven brothers were paraded past Samuel? Anyway, he was brought in from the fields, and that’s when the strangest thing happened: God chose the youngest, the smallest, the least experienced son of Jesse to rule over Israel. God chose David. God looked at David and saw his heart.
In David’s heart, God saw a poet (who penned many of the psalms). In David’s heart, God saw a musician, the one who could soothe Saul’s anxious mind when he played for him. In David’s heart, God saw a caring person – one who cared for God and for God’s people. In David’s heart, God saw the seeds of an excellent ruler, one who would choose Jerusalem as his capital city because of its location between Israel and Judah – strategically located in a neutral zone between the two nations who had been one. In David’s heart, God saw one who would bring the ark to Jerusalem, and one who would want to build God’s temple there (though he would be told that his son Solomon would be the one to build it).
The Lord looks on the heart. The Lord sees who we really are – not our outer appearances, not the person we try to show the world – but our true selves. The Lord does not see as mortals see. The Lord looks upon the heart.
We know that David wasn’t perfect. Most of us recall what happened when he decided that he could take Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and rape her…and then put her husband on the front line so he would be killed. No, David was far from perfect. God knew that David was not perfect, that he was fallible, that he was human. God knew David fully and he called him.
David answered that call without resistance. He was open to it. He made mistakes. He listened to people like Nathan when they pointed out his sin. He repented. David, a fallible human being was, nonetheless, trying to be a good and faithful person, a good and faithful king.
In the midst of all of his accomplishments and failures, David lived out his call from God. David answered God’s call and lived it.
The question is, “How is God calling you? To what is God calling you? What are you doing about it?”
Now I don’t know about you, but when we start using that language, the language of call, it suddenly seems like the call ought to be about something big, something vocational, as in, “I’m called to be a teacher,” or “I’m called to be a pastor.” Or even, I’m called to be a spouse, or a parent.
While those are definitely examples of what God calls us to do and to be, I don’t think it even scratches the surface.
God calls us to listen; to hug; to pray; to bring food to someone who is hungry; to use our vote and our voice to advocate for those whose voices are rarely heard; to be a friend to someone; the list goes on infinitely.
What if God is also calling us to grow in our ability to look on the heart? What if God is calling us to not only notice when we judge others by appearances, not to just notice our prejudice, but to actively work to dismantle it? God, who sees our hearts and loves us also sees the hearts of all of his beloved children. What if God is calling you to look on the hearts of others; to actually get to know them rather than running with those first assumptions? What if God is calling me to look on the hearts of others rather than running with my first assumptions?
Jesus, God’s only Son, looked upon people and saw their hearts rather than their appearances or their station. From women to lepers to tax collectors, Jesus looked on people and saw their hearts. Jesus looked on people and loved them. And he looks on us and loves us.
We say we want to be like Jesus. Well, then one thing we (and I) need to do is to pray for his help as we learn to look on the hearts of others. In fact, let’s do that right now:
God who looks on our hearts,
You know us completely. You know where we are full of love and care for our neighbor. You know those places where we hide the quick judgments we have made about who people are.
Grant us grace to follow our savior Jesus Christ in looking on the hearts of others.
Cause us to daily grow in love for others and to serve our neighbor as we would serve you.
In Jesus’ name,