1 Samuel 3:1-10: 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.’
The Old Testament reading, as provided by our three year lectionary, provides an interesting question. The default reading is 1 Samuel 3:1-10, with only an option to read vs 11-20. How you handle the option changes the entire way you might interpret the passage as you hear it read Sunday morning.
After three times (note a significant number) of running to his mentor Eli after hearing his name called, Samuel follows Eli’s instructions after the elder clued in that in fact it was God calling Samuel. The passage ends with Samuel telling God, as directed by Eli, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” If we leave it at that, it would seem logical to assume that many people would expect that Samuel would be given a “good” word about his early stages training to be a priest and perhaps even a pat on the back from God. If we exercise the extended option, we learn that God in fact tells the “boy” (yes just a youngster) Samuel to go and tell his mentor Eli that God is about to depose Eli and his family for wrongdoing. So, that is not the good news we expect. Can God really expect Samuel to carry that message to the one training him? Well he does and Eli equally surprises us by accepting God’s judgment without question.
This only makes sense if we in fact know the Old Testament story. 1 and 2 Samuel, closely parallel 1 and 2 Kings. In each we learn the story of how Israel complained about governance by both Judges and then Priests and prayed to God to fix all problems by giving them a King. Samuel will eventually play a major role in the appointment of the first King. All four books of Scripture carry an ongoing narrative of corruption, power, greed and control. For more leaders the books carry notations about them doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and the whole community suffering. Rarely, we do see a notation of doing good in the sight of the Lord and blessing comes upon the people.
It may be a leap, but one I’m willing to make, to say that power, corruption, greed and control are issues throughout the Scriptures and have continued to be major issues in today’s society.
Perhaps Samuel’s call to God to speak because he is listening is one that we all might spend some time in evaluating. It is clear throughout Scripture that we are called to love God and love our neighbour, something that we have, in general, not excelled at. What does it mean to listen for God’s direction? Are we prone to pointing fingers at others as the problem, rather than seeking answers inside ourselves? What is our role as individual Christians, as a community church, as a Diocese and as a national and international Church body in calling our society to listen to God’s message of love and care to be given to all God’s children?
The Rev. Canon T. Keith Nethery