“I AM JUST A CHILD” Meditation on young people with Kings David and Solomon – La Civilta Cattolica in English

Can we count on young people? Isn’t it risky to give responsibilities to those who have no experience? Would it be a mistake to trust a young person? Qohelet seems to answer these questions when he says: “Woe to you, country whose king is a child (na’ar) (Qo 10,16). The prophet Jeremiah, too, faced with the mission that God entrusted to him, protects himself and opposes him, invoking his young age: “Ah! Lord God, I can’t speak, I’m a child (na’ar) (Jer 1,6). Because of his youth, Jeremiah feels unfit and too immature to speak and fulfill the prophetic mission. The Hebrew word used in both cases, na’argenerally designates a non-adult man, a young person, an adolescent, but it can also designate a boy and a child[1].

Can young age, however, by itself be a sign of incompetence and inadequacy? God answers Jeremiah’s doubts: “Do not say: I am too young. Wherever I send you, you go; whatever I command you, you say” (Jer 1,7). Here, as in other passages of the Bible, the Lord shows that his own criteria of choice go beyond civil age. God does not act as a selector looking for curriculum offering a wide range of experiences. As Pope Francis recalled during the recent presynodal meeting with young people: “At many times in the history of the Church, as also in many biblical episodes, God wanted to speak through the youngest […] In difficult times, the Lord advances history with young people[2] “.

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

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[1] Cf. L. Alonso Schökel – M. Zappella, Dizionario di ebraico biblico, Cinisello Balsamo (Mi), San Paolo, 2013, 554. The Bible hesitates as to the beginning of adulthood. In some texts, the end of youth is fixed at twenty years (Is 30,14; Nm 1,3.18; 14,29); in other cases, youth can last up to twenty-five (Nm 8.24) or even thirty years (Nm 4.3.23; 1 Ch 23.3): Cf. HF Fuhs, “ na’ar », in: GJ Botterweck – H. Ringgren (eds), Grande lessico dell’Antico TestamentoV, Brescia, Paideia, 2005, 926-940.

[2] Francis, Address to the presynodal meeting with young people: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/fr/speeches/2018/march/documents/papa-francesco_20180319_visita-pcimme.html.

[3] Cf. J.-P. Sonnet, L’ alleanza della lettura. Questioni di poetica narrativa nella Bibbia ebraicaRome, Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2011, 146.

[4] See R. Alter, The David Story. A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 SamuelNew York, WW Norton & Company, 1999, 85.

[5] For the possible translations of the particle Ie, cf. L. Alonso Schökel – M. Zappella, Dizionario di ebraico biblico408-411.

[6] Cf. RD Nelson, I and II ReTorino, Claudiana, 2010, 40.

[7] In Jewish thought, the affections reside rather in the entrails or in the maternal uterus: Cf. A. Sisti, “Misericordia”, in: P. Rossano – G. Ravasi – A. Girlanda, Nuovo dizionario di theologia biblicaCinisello Balsamo (Mi), Paoline, 1988, 978-984.

[8] In Hebrew, the word ṭôb has the double meaning of “beautiful” and “good”. Meir Sternberg has devoted interesting pages to the theme of the ambivalence of the “beautiful” in the books of Samuel: Cf. M. Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative. Ideological Literature and the Drama of ReadingBloomington, Indiana University Press, 1985, 354-364.

[9] In the story of Gn 4, God “looks” at Abel’s offering and not Cain’s; likewise, in the case of Jacob and Esau, the Lord chooses the younger. Thereafter, Joseph will be a prince among his brothers, and Gideon will be established as a savior over Israel, although he is the least in his father’s house (cf. Jg 6).

[10] See M. Gargiulo, Samuele. Introduction, translation and commentaryMilan, San Paolo, 2016, 175.

[11] Word na’ar designates both a servant, a servant, and a young boy: Cf. L. Alonso Schökel – M. Zappella, Dizionario di ebraico biblico554.

[12] There are two accounts that introduce David into the history of Israel. There are probably two different traditions behind these stories that have been preserved in the Bible. Both texts are important in understanding the meaning of the character David. According to Robert Alter, 1 Samuel 16 is centered on the call of the young David by God, who has all the initiative, while 1 Sam 17 presents a horizontal perspective: the son of Jesse intervenes, speaks, struggles, and he does not there does not seem to be any direct action of the Lord (Cf. R. Alter, The David Story, 110 sec).

[13] See M. Gargiulo, Samuele189.

[14] On the links between human causality and divine causality in the biblical narrative, cf. Y. Amit, “The Dual Causality Principle and Its Effects on Biblical Literature”, Vetus Testamentum 37 (1987) 385-400.

[15] Cf. Gen 28.1-4 and 49.29; 2 R 20.1.

[16] See R. Alter, The David Story374.

[17] Cf. F. Ficco, ““Sii forte e mostrati uomo”. The paternity of Davide in 1 Re 1–2”, Rivista Bible 57 (2009) 257-272.

[18] See JT Walsh, 1 KingsCollegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1996, 72.

[19] The words of David’s son in the Book of Wisdom echo Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings: “I prayed, and understanding was given to me. I begged, and the spirit of Wisdom came into me. I preferred it to thrones and sceptres; next to her, I considered wealth as nothing; I did not compare it with precious stones; all the gold in the world next to her is but a little sand, and in front of her the silver will be regarded as mud. I loved her more than health and beauty; I have chosen it in preference to the light, because its brightness is not extinguished” (Wis 7,7-10).

[20] In the last verse, the literal translation is “a listening heart.” The IEC 2008 version translates more freely: “a docile heart”.

[21] Cf. M. Cogan, I Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and CommentaryNew York, Doubleday, 2001, 186.

[22] Cf. M. Cogan, I Kings188.

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“I AM JUST A CHILD” Meditation on young people with Kings David and Solomon – La Civilta Cattolica in English

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