The Calling of Samuel, Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 3:3b-10
January 17, 2021
We know that a moment is important in Jewish History when the LORD calls someone to do his will. We have seen the call of prophets and patriarchs. They know that they will be involved with something big and usually wish to opt out. God however knows who he wants, and no excuses are acceptable.
The situation today is the turn from a clan-based leadership structure to a real monarchy. We examined this a few weeks ago. To briefly review, from roughly 1350 to 1050 BC, the Hebrews were a loose coalition of tribes with similar religious beliefs and a shared dietary code. They desired to be as independent as possible but often needed to unite to fight a common enemy. At this time, they would determine a leader – a war chief – who world organize an army and lead it until they won or lost. This leader was called a judge. This system was like the confederations around them.
Some of these however were developing a more centralized administration which allowed them to maintain a professional army placing the Hebrews at a strategic disadvantage. This would need to change but it would only be a change within their tradition if it were instituted by a holy man called by the LORD. That man was Samuel.
His story began with his mother Hannah. She was a beloved wife but was barren. She and her husband were devout and often went to Shiloh to offer sacrifice. This was before the temple in Jerusalem was constructed and this sanctuary was at best semi-permanent but for convenience sake, we will call it a temple nonetheless. During one visit in desperation she entered the temple and begged the LORD for a child.
If you give your handmaid a male child,(1 Sa 1:11)
I will give him to the LORD for as long as he lives;
neither wine nor liquor shall he drink,
and no razor shall ever touch his head.”
Eli, the senior priest, hears her and blesses her request. After Samuel has been weaned, she brought him to Eli and left him with him. We find Samuel today with Eli in the sanctuary.
It is not Hannah who is barren but Eli. His eyes had grown so weak that he could barely see. He did however have sons Hophni and Phinehas who had taken over managing the temple. They extorted the sacrifices from the Israelites and abused the female servants. Eli tried to stop his sons, but he was unable to do so. His impotence was a sign of the spiritual deadness of the entire people.
During the time young Samuel was minister to the LORD under Eli,(1 Sa 3:1)
a revelation of the LORD was uncommon and vision infrequent.
Contact with God was uncommon and thus there was no enlightenment.
The lamp of God was not yet extinguished,(1 Sa 3:3)
and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was
The situation was dire but not yet hopeless the light was “not yet extinguished”. Notice also that Samuel was close to the LORD he was sleeping near the ark of the covenant. Eli on the other hand was further away. In our terms, Samuel was sleeping in the sanctuary near the tabernacle and Eli was in the main aisle.
Samuel was to care for the aging Eli so when he hears a call, he immediately assumes that Eli needs him. A call from God as we have seen was uncommon so even Eli did not understand. Samuel’s respond however even the first time was important: “Here I am.” This was the response of the Patriarchs to the call of the LORD: Abraham (Gen. 22:1, 11), Jacob (31:11; 46:2), Joseph (37:13), and Moses (Exod. 3:4).
After the third time, Eli understands and tells Samuel to respond “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Samuel does this and the LORD responds:
I am about to do something in Israel(1 Sa 3:11)
that will cause the ears of everyone who hears it to ring.
The section read today was chosen to connect with the Gospel passage of the call of the disciples. The next few lines are not read at Mass, but we should look at them. The Lord tells the boy Samuel that he will destroy the family of Eli. The weakness of Eli and the corruption of his sons have prevented them from being part of his future plans. Samuel will be how the restructuring will occur. The people will go from being the Hebrews, a collection of clans to the Israelites a nation. The Lord shows his trust in Samuel by sharing this with him.
Eli may not have been able to be the LORD’S instrument in this restructuring, but he is still a man of God. When Eli saw Samuel the next morning he asked:
What did he say to you? Hide nothing from me!(1 Sa 3:17–18)
May God do thus and so to you
if you hide a single thing he told you.
So Samuel told him everything, and held nothing back.
Eli answered, “He is the LORD.
He will do what he judges best.”
How many of us would have had faith enough to say the same?
Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,(1 Sa 3:19)
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
As Hannah was made fruitful so now her son. Through him the presence of God was being revealed to the people:
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba(1 Sa 3:20–21)
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh;
he manifested himself to Samuel at Shiloh through his word.
The world has experienced great distress his year. Although I am usually extremely suspicious of American exceptionalism, I think we could acknowledge that our country has been especially tried. The Church universal and our own Parish cannot be separated from this. We will know that the year of pandemic, division, and insurrection was more than an unfortunate series of distressing events but an experience of God visiting his people if he has called people to change the direction of the world.
Think about Hannah, think about Samuel, remember the Apostles called in today’s Gospel, open the ears of your heart, is he calling you to do something that will ring in people’s ears?