1 Samuel 4:1-11
In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
When the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Psalm 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25
You made us turn back from the foe,
and our enemies have gotten spoil.
You have made us like sheep for slaughter,
and have scattered us among the nations.
You have made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples.
All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
It is easy to imagine the confusion the Israelites must have had in our first reading. It is easy to imagine what sort of questions they might have had for God after being soundly defeated by the Philistines. It is easy to understand the abandonment the Israelites must have felt after such a devastating loss. Even after they took counsel and brought the ark of the covenant into the camp, even after they marched forth boldly in faith that God’s power can defeat any enemy, even after they had done everything that had brought them victory before, they were still defeated. And then we can only imagine what it might have done for their faith. The psalmist puts some of this devastation into words. The psalmist questions why this has been allowed. The psalmist expresses what many of us feel after we have been left traumatized. “God, why do you hide your face?”
But then, in the Gospel, we see a man come before Jesus, kneeling before him in humility, and all he says is, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” He does not argue with Jesus. He does not try to convince Jesus to heal him. He does not try to bargain with him for a healing. He simply places himself at the feet of Jesus, professes his faith, and submits to Jesus’ will. This level of surrender is perhaps the hardest thing for any of us when we want something badly. Allowing God to work in his way in his timing requires patience, and it tests our endurance. But it is only when we reach that level of surrender that we can understand that the result is not dependent on our action, but on God’s action.
It can be tempting as Christians to lay everything on our own faith. When tragedy strikes us, we can wonder what we might have done to deserve such a trial. When our prayers do not seem to be answered, we wonder if we have not prayed hard enough or if we have enough faith. But God is not sitting in heaven, doling out punishment or refusing healings based on whether or not we have been good enough. God is looking out for our welfare. Sometimes that manifests in physical healings, but sometimes that manifests as a trial that he desires to bring us through. Ultimately, hardship, sickness, and trials are all things that are passing away with this life, but in the meantime, God can bring good out of all of it even now. Our answers might not come in the way we want them to. Our answers might not come in the time we want them to. But God is the one who has the best plan. It is our role to surrender to him.
No matter what your circumstance, no matter what your trials, no matter what your history, entrust your life and your concerns to God. He is the one who can bring good out of evil, order out of chaos, and life out of death. Let us trust that he knows what he is doing in all of our lives.