The story of David’s anointing, in light of the other lectionary passages this week, invites the people of God into a conversation on power. If the reign of the Kingdom of God is later compared to that of a mustard seed in Mark, this passage illustrates the genesis of the Davidic reign in a similar posture, as both small and undesired. However, for the people of God, this story of David becomes a potent reminder of how quickly the predatorial power of the empire compels corruption and blinds them to “the other.”
At the behest of YHWH, a secret rendezvous, under the auspices of performing a sacrifice, was organized so that the prophet Samuel could meet Jesse and his sons. Samuel, known as “The Seer,” is told to look upon the sons of Jesse and identify the next king of Israel. The oldest and strongest were exhibited for Samuel to see like beauty contestants at a pageant. Surprisingly, the convener of the pageant introduces a new set of standards: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Sam 16:7). And so, the seven sons of Jesse pass by as Samuel looks on, none having made the cut. If the number seven is the Biblical suggestion of fulfilment this story posits a counter narrative. There is one more and he is the youngest, “the other,” and the eighth son, who some say was born in iniquity (Ps 51). This is the son that when “The Seer” comes to town, he is sent to the fields to keep from getting in the way. This is the son who started off like the mustard seed, small and undesired.
Samuel calls him in from the fields and before David is able to get through the door, he is drenched in the oil of the king. This moment is crucial. David, “the other,” is brought in from the margin to the center of the community. What a shift in status! From the youngest to the anointed leader, from the outcast to the king. An idyllic reading of this story ends with the mustard seed, small and undesired, growing and ruling with the same kind of inclusivity and generosity by which he was chosen. But the story has not come to its final chapter. Instead, David eventually loses sight of his otherness and allows the power of his reign to corrupt. This old trope about power and corruption appears time and time again in the story of the people of God. They cannot escape the grasps of the predatorial power of the empire which compels corruption and blinds them to the other.
It is difficult to write about this quaint scene of YHWH’s intentional selection of a man who, losing sight of his original otherness, becomes yet another oppressive power in the patriarchal narrative. To pile on, in this scene, David is purposely selected not for his appearance but for his heart (1 Sam 16:7); yet this very man will later victimize a woman for her appearance and break her heart by murdering her husband (2 Sam 11). In what can only be understood as sexual assault, considering the vast power differential and Bathsheba’s marital status, David gives in to his desires and, empowered by his corruption, is able to obtain exactly what his eyes see.
This story becomes for the people of God a reminder of the complicated nature of power because the corrupting power in David’s life continues to be pervasive today. Just as David forgot his own otherness, so too, does the Church, in positions of power and privilege, forget her otherness. The invitation implicit within this story is to confess the ways in which power has resulted in corruption and blindness to “the other.” This confession must follow the example of YHWH who grieved with Samuel concerning the waywardness of His chosen king (1 Sam 15:35) and then, in an act of defiance, YHWH urges us to “fill our horns with oil” and set out to the margins to anoint the people and places that have been seen as “other,” thereby bringing them into the center of community (1 Sam 16:1).