One of the movies I enjoyed growing up was called Freaky Friday. The movie debuted in the seventies starring a young Jodie Foster, but they remade the movie in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. The premise of the movie is a mother and her teenage daughter are at each other’s throats. They are constantly fighting, arguing that the other person cannot possible understand the difficulties she is facing. On one fateful Friday morning, the two make a flippant wish. With great gusto and anger they both say, “I wish you could live in my shoes for just one day!” Of course the two get their wish, and spend a crazy day trapped in the body of the other. There are fun mishaps like the under-aged daughter trying to figure out how to drive a car and spending lots of mom’s money which is suddenly at her disposal. There are also those stressful moments as the mom tries to take a high school test on material she has long since forgotten or trying to navigate being teased at school. By the end of the movie, both mother and daughter are frazzled by the demands on them, overwhelmingly regretful of their wish, and just want to go back to life the way it was. They have to work together to figure out how to reverse the wish, which basically includes coming to a point of fully appreciating the difficulties each of them faces in life and loving each other deeply.
Unfortunately, there was no Freaky Friday for the people of Israel in Samuel’s time. Samuel had been a great prophet for the people, teaching them the ways of God. But Samuel was aging, and his sons were proving they would not be able to fill Samuel’s shoes, as they were corrupt and abusive. Normally, the people of Israel would have been on their own until God decided to elect another prophet for them. But the people of Israel felt threatened. There were great powers all around them, many of which were battling for power and control. The Israelites looked to those nations and noticed one major difference between themselves and the other countries – kings! And so, with great gusto they had Samuel ask God to give them a king. Now, we have to understand how petulant the Israelites sound. In their immaturity, they whine, “We want a king! All the other kids have kings, and we need one too. Then we will be guaranteed to be protected!” Samuel is outraged on God’s behalf. Asking for a king is tantamount to admitting that the people of God do not trust God to protect them. They are basically asking to totally change their centuries-old relationship with God – no longer being governed by God, but being governed by a human being. God agrees to grant their wish, but advises Samuel first to warn them about what they are asking. Samuel does – like a parent, he rips into them about what they can expect – to give up their young men to fight in wars, to give up their young women for service to the empire, for their livestock and best fields to be taken by the king. And when they begin to sense the injustice of the king, God will not answer their cries. And of course, like a petulant child, the people demand their king anyway.
Who among us has not similarly negotiated with God? We take the higher paying job even though something in our gut tells us we should not. Years later we find ourselves unhappy and unfulfilled. We stay in romantic relationships that are not life-giving because we are more afraid of being alone than we are of being in an unsatisfying relationship. We spend more and more money trying to fill a void in ourselves, even though we know the void never goes away. Like the people of Israel we turn away from God, trying to control and protect our lives, while God longs for us to instead turn toward God.
Here is what I love about this story though: God actually had a fair amount of choices in this story. God could have smote the people for their disloyalty. God could have simply refused and told them to get on with life. God could have negotiated or come up with a compromise. Instead, God respects the people’s free-will. God presents the disadvantages of taking on a human king; but then God lets the people choose – even choose the wrong choice. I find God’s action encouraging because God’s action tells us a lot about our relationship with God. God actions show us that our free-will is so important to God, that God will not rule over us like a dictator, but will let us make our own decisions – even when our decisions are not very good ones. That kind of relationship between us teaches us that God respects us, empowers us to make decisions, and let’s us have a fair amount of control in our lives.
But even more encouraging than God respecting our free will is that fact that God can make everything good anyway. The people of Israel did in fact make a poor choice that they paid for dearly – all that Samuel predicted came true in the person of King Solomon. But God also made their poor decision great “in the form of a Davidic dynasty with a historical significance beyond measure.”[i] The human choice of an Israelite king would later be redeemed through the coming of Jesus of Nazareth – descended from that same line.[ii] If God can redeem a centuries old poor decision, surely God can redeem the many poor decisions we make in life. And that is good news! Amen.
[i] Roger Nam, “Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20 [11:14-15]” as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2472 on June 3, 2015.
[ii] Patrick J. Willson, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Supplemental Essays, Yr. B, Proper 5 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 6