Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The cry of the Poor

Today we begin reading the books of Samuel. The reading begins with the story of God hearing and answering the prayer of Hannah. Unfortunately it skips over the backstory. The First Book of Samuel opens by giving us a glimpse in ancient Jewish family dynamics. We can forget that the early Jewish community accepted polygamy. The story tells us that Helkanah has two wives, Penninah and Hannah. When food was distributed, the scriptures tell us, Hannah was given only a single portion, because as the text reads, "the Lord had closed her womb." While Elkanah loved her and would pray with her, in all to human fashion the scriptures tell us that his other wife made her life miserable. It takes very little effort for us to imagine the taunting by Penninah, and Hannah crying, thinking of herself as useless and cursed by God because she has no children. On a very practical level knowing that without children should she outlive Elkanah, she will most likely end up begging on the street, homeless and starving. What hope does she have that Penninah's children will care for her? Penninah is a tragic figure. She seemed to have it all husband, home, and children. Her name means pearl. Yet with everything she has, she lacks compassion. She lacks real love in her heart. Perhaps there is a some connection, an inverse proportion. The more we have the less we love. The less compassion we are able to feel those who have not. Is it a rule? No, but I do think it is a real temptation we face. We may not be as heartless as she but if we take an honest look in our own hearts I bet we can all find some individuals or groups toward whom we lack the compassion we should have.