We must hear today's first and third readings against the background of two stories in II Samuel 15 & 16; both narratives go to the heart of true religion.
For most people in the ancient world, religion was simply a system of special prayers and rubrics which, when employed correctly, guaranteed the gods or goddesses would grant your requests. Good religions supplied the tools to control the divinity.
But, as Walter Brueggemann pointed out in his classic book In Man We Trust, King David's "theologian" changed that concept. Fleeing from his son Absalom, David's twice given an opportunity to control Yahweh's actions in his life. In 15:24ff, the priests offer him a huge advantage over his rebellious son: possession of the Ark of the Covenant: the portable shrine in which Yahweh is present more than in any other place on earth. To everyone's amazement, David refuses their offer. Then, in 16:5ff he stops Abishai, his bodyguard, from killing the Benjaminite Shimai who's throwing stones and curses at him during his retreat. The stones he can duck, but according to 10th century BCE theology, Yahweh's forced to carry through on the curses unless the curser is killed.
Refusing to give in to that theology, the king uses words like "if and "perhaps" in both narratives when he refers to Yahweh's actions in his life. David's convinced that God's not controlled by special religious objects or words. Basing his reaction to the priests' offer and Shimai's curses on a new and improved theology, David tries to relate to Yahweh instead of attempting to control Yahweh. Once he does that, all the guarantees that organized religion provides are thrown out the window.
All of us can testify that there's always lots of ifs, perhaps, and maybes when we honestly try to relate - to give ourselves - to others. We never know exactly what the other person is going to do with what we give, and we certainly don't know how we're going to react to his or her reactions. It can get kind of messy at times.
Perhaps that is why some of us will enthusiastically latch on to the pre-Davidic theology in today's first reading. Just keep your hands raised and God will give you what you want. And some might even think the solution to having our needs met lies in the gospel widow's technique of continually hammering away until a "just decision" is made in our favor. Though Luke's Jesus encourages us to imitate the woman's persistence, he also adds one caveat: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
In other words, when this life as we know it is over, will it have been a success because we got all the stuff we ever prayed for, or because, through our faith, we developed a proper relationship with God, the person who always wants justice (proper relationships) for all people?
It might also be good to reflect on something the Pauline disciple responsible for II Timothy mentions in his letter. He talks about all Scripture being inspired by God and useful in various situations. When one is familiar with all Scripture, one quickly realizes we're dealing with different - sometimes contradictory - theologies: different ways of looking at God working in our lives. No one way fits everyone's needs and experiences. No doubt part of that theological diversity comes from the fact that we're expected to relate to God and not just try to control him/her. Since all relationships are different, all our theologies are also different.
Remember the good old days, when all we had to do was memorize the answers to catechism questions?