Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. 1 Sam. 3: 1-10; 19-21.
I have a theory. My theory is this: with surprising regularity, things tend to end much as they began. In many respects, the story of the prophet Samuel seems to validate that notion.
Now, the prophet Samuel began his ministry during the first generation of Israel’s monarchy. You’ll remember the story that Samuel’s mother (Hannah) was presumed to be barren. Hannah begged God for a child, promising that if God would give her a son, she would offer the child as a Nazarite (who would not drink wine or strong drink nor shave his head). Eli, the priest at the holy place of Shilo, assured Hannah that she would have a son.
Once Hanna weened Samuel, she presented him at Shilo. In a song remarkably similar to the Magnificat, Hannah sang that God had broken the bows of the mighty, raised the poor up from the dust, and seated the needy with princes. It’s a striking song, full of political radicalism and foreshadowing Jesus’ promise that the first will be last and the last will be first.
That same notion will run throughout Samuel’s ministry. Samuel would eventually turn his prophetic vision to Eli the priest. Eli failed to restrain his sons who abused their power and blasphemed by eating the choice cuts of the sacrificial animals. 1 Sam. 2:12-17. Similarly, Samuel warned the people of Israel against kings who would abuse their power and take advantage of the vulnerable. Now, that’s a very old story: the poor and the powerless suffer under the appetites of the strong. Samuel would ultimately give voice to God’s conclusion that King Saul’s reign has come to an end. God thus instructed Samuel to anoint David as the King of Israel.
I wonder whether we again live in days “when the word of the Lord is rare.” How do we confront those two twin tremendous mysteries, the silence of God and the voice of God? Maybe God’s silence arises from our regular failure to ask him for guidance, or our failure to listen when He does speak. For many of us, like Samuel, we’re not exactly sure when we’re hearing the Lord’s voice, and we certainly know that the news will not always be popular. As was the case with Samuel, once we’ve identified the voice of the Lord, there’s no guarantee anyone else will be receptive, or even interested.
Despite that, I always smile a bit and find great comfort when the Lectionary rolls around to this reading. I smile because when I was a child, my parish priest told me that this was a story about what happens to little boys who fall asleep in church. I find comfort because God calls to Samuel again and again throughout that night. Regardless of our confusion, God can be remarkably persistent. He can, in fact, hound us repeatedly while we’re trying to sleep. God’s word has a remarkable capacity to interrupt and disturb us when we’re trying to do something else. I pray that you’ll listen for that voice, and that I will also.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis