Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
'Samuel did not yet recognize the LORD, since the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him'. (I Sam 3:7)
That story of Samuel hearing the Lord calling out to him in the night has a number of different layers, in one sense it is the awakening realisation of somebody that God is, and God communicates with us. Yet hidden in that tale are hints that all is not well. Eli, who actually recognises Gods call, and who then takes it upon himself to open a way of prayer for Samuel, "Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'(I Sam 3:9)" has also done wrong. He has not listened to God, nor been obedient to his office and calling as a priest, nor done what he could to reprove and rebuke his sons for their great wickedness. The message Samuel receives from God is of little consolation to Eli, that because of this his house and line will be wiped out!
So what do we take from this tale? We can of course just ignore the harsh message and concentrate on the call and revelation of God to Samuel and remind ourselves this is not a one off, but is something we too receive. Like Samuel we often need wiser people than ourselves to help us enter into that relationship with our God. But I can't leave the problem of Eli out of the story, was he a bad man? The answer if you trawl through the scriptures is no, but it seems that he is either weak or perhaps disillusioned with God. He does not listen to what is being asked of him. Now that is what true obedience is, discerning and listening to God's call. Eli knows that, why do you think he tells Samuel to respond saying: 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening?' He knows what it is all about, but has neglected his role and vocation!
Why such a harsh punishment? I'm afraid I haven't all the answers to that question, except to point out that not every story ends happily and the wicked goings on of Eli's sons and the Priesthood needed to stop, and they did! Yet we do have some form of answer if we take this story alongside the Gospel account of Andrew and the other disciple finding Jesus through John the Baptists call. (Jn I:35-42) This too is about an awakening, another revelation through the experienced insight of somebody well versed in the ways of God. John's short pithy comment: "Behold, the Lamb of God"(Jn I:32b) carries in it a weight of theology and scripture. Jesus becomes the paschal lamb, whose self offering takes away the sins of the world. No more will any punishment like that meted out to Eli take place, no more blood offerings are needed, all in Christ can find reconciliation with God.
Yet there is something more. We are called by God and often do not know it, we might see Christ but not recognise him in another, we might block out his voice of mercy and love, but it is there. Somehow in the end I am sure Eli found and saw the Lord because he knew what he had to do and say in his heart. May we never despair of Gods mercy, but when all seems dark, open our lives to God in Eli's words:" Speak LORD, your servant is listening!"
Hannah and Eli (I Sam I;15-18)
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
18 She said, "May your servant find favour in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
Last prayer from the film: The book of Eli (2010)
Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the strength and the conviction to complete the task you entrusted to me. Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path. And for keeping me resolute when all around seemed lost. Thank you for your protection and your many signs along the way. Thank you for any good that I may have done, I'm so sorry about the bad. Thank you for the friend I made. Please watch over her as you watched over me. Thank you for finally allowing me to rest. I'm so very tired, but I go now to my rest at peace. Knowing that I have done right with my time on this earth. I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith.