Sunday, January 15, 2012
A Call To Vision
“In those days the word of the Lord was rarely heard; there was no outpouring of vision.” (Revised English Version)
In thanksgiving for God answering Hannah’s prayer to give her a son, she dedicated Samuel as a child to minister to God under the supervision of the priest, Eli. (1 Samuel 1:24-28) Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, were rogue priests who misused their position by becoming sexual predators on women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, as well as by greedily grabbing, possibly along with their father, the choicest portions of the Israelites’ sacrificial offerings. Eli is pictured by the author of 1 Samuel as a weak, wimpy parent, at best.
Today’s first reading (1 Samuel 3:1-20) begins with the author’s notation that God’s word was “rare” in those days. God was silent; God’s ministers didn’t speak much about God. God’s people generally lacked vision. Eli is described in the passage as one “whose eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see...” It’s a visible sign of his interior state of being. Neither he nor his incorrigible, blasphemous sons are pleasing to God. Nevertheless, as the author continues, “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.” There is still hope.
It’s in this context that the boy, Samuel, lying down in God’s temple, hears someone calling, once, then twice: “Samuel, Samuel!” Notice how, at both times when this occurs, Samuel responds unhesitatingly: “Here I am!” Already, though unwittingly, he shows promise of becoming a true servant of God. Yet, it’s pointed out, Samuel “did not yet know the Lord,...the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” It’s always God who initiates the call to God’s servant. Each time Samuel hears the voice, thinking that it’s Eli summoning him, he runs to Eli, only to be told that he hadn’t called Samuel. Eli sends him back only to have the process repeated a third time. Finally, Eli “gets it”; it’s the Holy One calling out to Samuel. “Go lie down,” he tells Samuel, and if he calls you again, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
Samuel obeys, a further sign of a genuine servant of God. God, then, “came and stood there”, calling out a fourth time, “Samuel, Samuel”. Samuel responds as Eli prompted him, but notice that he doesn’t speak the word “Lord” -- only “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel is a faithful servant of God: even though he doesn’t know who’s addressing him, he nevertheless responds wholeheartedly.
God intimates that something extremely important is about to said: something that “will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle...” As Samuel stands there taking it all in, God reveals God’s intention to exclude Abiathar, Eli’s descendant, as well as his other descendants, from the priesthood, in favor of Zadok and his successors. That was a message which Eli, though he recognized that it was the Lord calling, dreaded hearing!
Samuel, even as young as he is, gets the message loud and clear. And he’s afraid. He “lay there until morning...afraid to tell the vision to Eli.” But Eli calls Samuel, to have verbalized what he was savvy enough to have already figured it out. Eli presses Samuel to tell him the hard truth, and not to hide anything from Eli. Samuel, a truthful servant of God, shares God’s revelation forthrightly. Eli confirms it: “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” The author concludes simply: “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him...All Israel...knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
When you and I don’t “know” the Lord because of our chronic selfishness and weakness, God’s word can’t get through. Consequently we lack any kind of real spiritual vision and become incapable of genuinely serving God and others. The level of cultural, political, and spiritual intolerance which is apparent today, in the life of our country as well as within the Church, seems to be the fundamental root of our troubles. It’s hard not to recall God’s words in Genesis: “‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh’...The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually...”
Humankind seems to be bent on war on many fronts. Christ’s words continue to fall on deaf ears: “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” (Matthew 5:44) “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) “For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does...We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) How “rare” is the word of God in our own day? Where is the vision?
Particularly in this Week of Prayer for Christian and Interfaith Unity, the call for vision needs to go out to the world anew. 1) A call to be truly people of the Word, people of The Book. God’s Covenant of love applies to all humankind, for we’re all sisters and brothers. Our lives need guidelines, “commandments” if you will, to lead us away from darkness and towards truth. Our generation, at least as much as all other generations, need prophets, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., whose liturgical commemoration is tomorrow, to face us with the hard realities of the dangers of disunity and oppression. Our hearts need to resonate with the Psalms which help us to pray in every imaginable human situation. Most of all, we need the vision of Jesus of Nazareth, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” as the model to become women and men of love. 2) A call, as Christians, to live as a covenant community through Baptism, recognizing the inherent worth of every human being, and committing ourselves to equality and justice in every aspect of human life. 3) A call, as Christians, to become a faithful people, not just occasionally, but every single day: centered on Jesus the Christ, seeking continual renewal through the Holy Spirit.
Today’s story of Samuel reminds us of the importance of listening at times when God seems to be calling us to something new. Samuel does this at a time of transition in both his own and Israel’s life. St. Paul hints at a similar situation in the Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), while John’s Gospel passage (John 1:43-51) provides another story of listening to a call. There Nathanael is invited to do more than just listen to Jesus the Holy One. He’s asked to "Come and see!".
René Girard, French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science, holds that all human culture prevents us from seeing and hearing the true God. It’s only when, by God’s utter gift of grace, Jesus is crucified and raised from the dead and appears to some of his followers, inviting them, calling them, that they and we are released from the power of human culture and begin to experience the the reign of God, i.e., God's culture. Imbued with the Spirit of Jesus, we can finally begin to see clearly how radically different are God's culture and all human cultures, touched as they are by the reality of sin and selfishness.
That hope is grounded in the grace and love of God in Christ which forgives us our very being having been formed in the sin and death of human culture. God's forgiveness invites us to begin to live in God's culture, which, as it transforms and sanctifies each of our beings, can also begin to transform human culture.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ
is the light of the world:
Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments,
may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory,
that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth. Amen.