Welcome to Weekly Lectionary in which I tackle (not literally; that's impossible) one of the lectionary passages for the forthcoming Sunday. This week, we're going to look at the Old Testament reading: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13.
Samuel is looking for Israel's new king. He is sent to Bethlehem and is to find the new leader among Jesse's sons. The oldest, Eliab, passes by and Samuel thinks, "Yep, this is the next king." But God says, "Not so fast." Jesse's six other sons pass by. "Is that it?" Samuel asks. "Well..." There's David. The youngest. Kind of an afterthought.
This is where my mind starts scanning through different Bible stories. David is the youngest. Isaac is the younger half-brother. Jacob was the younger twin. Joseph is the next to youngest, but he might as well be the youngest because Benjamin is developed so little as a character that he's practically a MacGuffin. In the Prodigal Son parable, the titular son for whom the father throws the celebratory bash? The youngest.
"Wait," I ask myself, "does God like youngest children the best?" I wonder about this because I'm the oldest child in my family. I almost take offense at the idea. Don't get me wrong, the youngest child in our family, Shari, is fantastic. She is one of my favorite people in the world and it wouldn't surprise me if God loves her more. But if the deck was stacked against me all this time just because I'm the oldest child? Well, that's just not fair.
I'm kidding (mostly). These stories seek to subvert cultural ideas. The oldest was thought to be the more powerful one, the one that inherited the family's wealth and carried on the name (if the child were a male). Of course, Samuel would think Eliab was the one God would choose as king. You want someone with a proper resume, someone who will look the part.
But God doesn't typically pull for the favorite. It could be argued that if God doesn't have a preferential option for the youngest child that the Almighty at least has a gigantic soft spot for the underdog. God loves to lift up the lowly. It's a pattern that you see again and again throughout scripture. God chooses little sibling Israel to be God's people. God chooses the slow of speech Moses over his more well-spoken older brother Aaron.
God with us grew up in a dusty, backwards nowhere town called Nazareth. He grew up to teach that the least would be greatest and that the poor and meek would be blessed. One of his followers Paul talked constantly of his "little brother" attributes and concluded that God's power is made perfect in weakness.
So this isn't about an oldest/youngest dichotomy or saying that younger children are weaklings and older children are typically awesomely awesome bastions of awesomeness. This is about the fact that God tends to work through the unexpected, the weak, the disenfranchised. It's about subverting the expectations that power, prestige, wealth, and attractiveness are signs of God's blessings.
That is something to which the church should pay attention. I'm afraid sometimes that we learn the wrong lessons from that narrative and try to paint ourselves as the victim when we're not (i.e. just because you don't get your way, doesn't mean that you're poor and powerless).
Rather I think it is to teach us a posture of humility and reliance upon God. And, if I'm going to run back to the image of the youngest child, perhaps we could find ourselves living with a little more imagination and whimsy rather than the world-wearied sigh of an oldest child (he says as an oldest child). That last idea may be a stretch, but I certainly don't think that such a posture could hurt.