‘I am just a boy’: Meditating on the young with Kings David and Solomon

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Vincenzo Anselmo, SJ

 Vincenzo Anselmo, SJ / Church Thought / 11 September 2018


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Is it possible to depend on young people? Is it not risky to give responsibilities to those who have not gained experience? Would trust in a young person be misplaced? Ecclesiastes seems to respond to these questions by stating: “Alas for you, O land, when your king is a child (na’ar)” (Eccles 10:16). Even the prophet Jeremiah, facing the mission that God entrusted to him, is self-deprecating and resists, citing his young age as the reason: “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy’ (na’ar)” (Jer 1:6). Because of his young age Jeremiah feels unsuitable and too immature to speak and to carry out the prophetic mission. In both cases the Hebrew word na’ar is used, which generally refers to a non-adult, a young person, an adolescent, but can also refer to a child or an infant.[1]

But can young age alone be an indication of incompetence and inadequacy? God answers Jeremiah’s concerns with: “Do not say: ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you’” (Jer 1:7). Here, as in other passages of the Bible, the Lord shows that his own criteria for selection go beyond mere chronological age. God does not behave like a recruiter looking for curricula vitae that offer a wide range of experiences. As Pope Francis recalled in the pre-synodal meeting with young people: “In many moments in the history of the Church, as in numerous Biblical episodes, God wished to speak through the youngest… In difficult moments, the Lord moves history forward through young people.”[2]

We will see, in fact, how the Lord is not afraid to entrust to young people the fate of his people.

The youngest of Jesse’s sons: David

The monarchy in Israel had a troubled and complex history. Following the long period of judges, the elders asked Samuel for a king who would govern them like other nations (cf. 1 Sam 8:5). The choice fell on Saul who, after a promising start, revealed himself to be a disobedient and rebellious ruler: during the wars against the Philistines and against the Amalekites, he rejected the word of the Lord (cf. 1 Sam 13-15).

Following the king’s transgressions, God is portrayed as regretting having placed him on the throne of Israel. Samuel addressed Saul, announcing that “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people” (1 Sam 13:14). Later, the prophet challenges the king with words just as harsh and clear: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). Samuel announces a new choice from God. The narrative tension grows, while the reader wonders who will be this person according to the heart of God, who will prove to be better than King Saul. Will he be a courageous warrior, of noble lineage and as tall and handsome as Saul (cf. 1 Sam 9:1-2)?

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