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For a small, invisible, orphan boy, Passover Week is a much anticipated event. He does not care about sacrifices or sins forgiven. He might if it weren’t for the constant growl of his hunger filling his ears and nose, distracting him from anything other than immediate survival. His joy over Passover is the added crowds and chaos, amounting to more opportunity for filling his stomach without being noticed by those more intent on righteousness, cleanliness and lawfulness, than they are on helping a beggar child overcome his begging.
Begging didn’t usually reap much reward anyway. Except on the out-of-towners. They weren’t surrounded daily by the masses of outcasts and unwanted a city the size of Jerusalem could produce. There was even one year, the boy remembers, not having to pick a purse at all, for either luck or God had somehow led him into the sight of every generous out-of-towner for an entire week! But that is the exception, not the rule. What is nice, however, is not having to work so hard at picking a purse. People from the country aren’t as smart about how they carry their valuables. They leave their bags to go find the landlord at an inn; they let their purses flop carelessly on their backs rather then hold them tight across their front. They don’t even own purses that shut tight. These are his favorite. Yes, Passover Week is an orphan’s holiday, too.
The temple is his favorite place at Feast time. The sheer amount of people, tables, cages and bargaining opens wide the gates of plenty. He can slip into the temple gates under cover of the crowds, mill around the Gentile’s court and practically have his way with purses, unprotected coins on the loan shark’s tables, and leftover bread thrown out by some hurried sinner in a rush to cleanse himself before his God. Then, when his tiny pouch is filled with a few coins and this stomach quieted from stale bread, he hides away in a corner heavily shadowed by Herod’s gaudy additions to the original Jewish design, and he lays down on the cold stone floor, pretending he isn’t Samuel the orphan but rather Samuel the child-prophet and one of these nights the Lord will call out his name and tell him he is chosen; chosen to be God’s child so he can stay in the temple to live, learn to read the Holy Scriptures, and know what it is like to be loved.
This year, something different is happening. A man has come to the temple and he is attracting quite a crowd. On the first day he caused a great commotion, tipped over tables and left the priests to clean up the mess. Now he has come back. Not angry this time, but rather full of stories – stories that make most his listeners nod and smile. But not the elders and priests. They don’t like it. They set their jaws and pinch their eyes while whispering among themselves then answering the man’s stories and teachings with objections and arguments. But the man is steady. He lets them scuffle then carries on….
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
            “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
            “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance. So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
            “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” the priests answer, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
“Have you never read the Scriptures:

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this
and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ “

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The man finishes his story and turns towards the crowd while the priests and elders set their jaws harder and pinch their eyes tighter. Meanwhile, Samuel, the orphan, forgets to be invisible. He needs to know if he, Samuel, could someday be a tenant; belong to vineyard and produce fruit for the owner. Who is this owner? Where can he be found? Without being conscious of his own movement, Samuel weaves and bumps his way toward the man, while the man – not outwardly purposeful, but very consciously – moves toward him. Soon they are close and the man bends to one knee and pulls Samuel into his chest and holds him tight.
Now Samuel knows the answers to his questions. Beyond questions, however, he knows. He is chosen by God and though he is still an orphan, he isn’t really an orphan after all.
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children… if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory.”     – Romans 8:15-17
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”      – quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:18, from 2 Samuel 7:14
Some things of interest:

  • Today’s story was constructed around the parable of the Tenants found in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 12, and Luke 20.
  • The Scripture Jesus quotes in his parable originates in Psalms 118:22-23 and Isaiah 28:16, the second one being especially Hope-filled:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”
  • Above, I quoted from Romans 8 in which Paul calls those who believe, the “sons and daughters of God“. Later in the same chapter he talks about hope. He says hope that is seen is no hope at all. If we hope, we hope for what we do not yet have and wait for it patiently.

Until tomorrow:
            Does it seem a stretch to think the orphan Samuel able to see himself not as an orphan anymore? In order to live in true hope, don’t we need to see ourselves from God’s reality and not the world’s?  What about you? Do you see yourself an orphan? Or a beloved child? This will determine where you’ve put you’re hope.