Lectionary Passages for Jan. 25, 2015
1 Sam. 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Cor. 6:12-20, John 1:43-51
This week I heard a story of a teenager’s bad decision. Apparently, friends had dared him to put his lock onto a piece of the school’s sprinkler system. It set off the system and caused significant damage in the school. The parents were held liable to the tune of $40,000.00
The incident raises a lot of questions about who should be held responsible.
In Samuel, Eli’s house is; “punished forever…because his sons were blaspheming God and he did not restrain them.” Verse 13. Eli’s sons were self centered and “in it for the perks”. As priests they were living high at the expense of their people. Eli had reprimanded his sons (read chapter 2 for the details) and they refused to listen to him. The punishment seems overly harsh, after all, how much power did Eli have to stop his adult sons? They were in an inherited position and seemingly only accountable to themselves. Did Eli do all he could? When is a parent’s job done?
As a parent, Eli’s heart must have been breaking through all of this. What is a parent to do? At some point a child becomes responsible for themselves and the consequences of their decisions, but where is that point? Where is the point at which the parent is free of the consequences of their child’s actions?
Parents are never truly free. While they may not have legal obligations to house or feed or pay for their child after a certain age, the obligations and ties of the heart are not limited by age. It is excruciating for parents to watch children make decisions that go against their beliefs and values. They second guess themselves and experience guilt feelings, they hurt for the heartaches they see coming, they feel crippled or powerless in responding to their adult child. There is a delicate balancing act between the crucial maintenance of relationship and the actions of holding the child accountable.
On top of all of his suffering, Eli is told (by a child not his own, a child he is mentoring) that he is to be punished along with his sons.
Eli is an old man. He is overweight, nearly blind, and in emotional distress over the choices of his sons. He’s already under a terrible load when he gets this news of the obliteration of his family from the priesthood and from life itself.
Eli’s response is humbling. He could have made Samuel’s life horrible, after all, Samuel’s report may have felt insolent. Who wants to be condemned by a child, your own student? Eli, however, says; “it is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him.” He completely gives himself to God. He continues to nurture Samuel. He continues to serve the people of Israel when there truly is nothing in it for himself.
I’m a parent too. I do my best and know that it may not be enough. My sons will eventually make their own choices and, if I disagree, I will be unable to do anything except voice my concern. How much am I responsible for then? How will I respond?
Eli’s example is challenging and inspiring. He is condemned for not stopping his sons which infers that there was a time he could have done more than just talk. There are times for hard action. Then, there are also times when all we can do is talk and pray that the child will listen. At that point, I hope I am able to be like Eli and accept what God wills. It was a brutal situation for Eli, but in accepting the consequences, he stopped the cycle of dysfunction. He let go of the hopes for a priestly succession in his family and he actively helped Samuel become the priest that God’s people needed.