God Is at Work Even During Confusing Times
The Call of Samuel happened during a time people felt all was lost.
I cannot think of a better reading for our times today than the first one. It is the story of the call of Samuel. It teaches us the importance of seeking holiness above all things. What makes it important is the context. Samuel became a powerful prophet to the first king of Israel and anointed the second king of Israel, secretly during the reign of the first king is Israel. The first king was described in some circles as kind of a bumbling king and the second became the greatest king Israel. The first King was Saul the second was David.
Today, the first reading takes place long before this when Samuel was quite young and apprenticed to Eli the high priest. What makes this whole story important for us is as I said the context. Eli was a good man but he had two sons who were intensely corrupt. Their names were Hophni and Phineas.
Their story always brings us to the movie the Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you have seen the movie which now is about forty years old, you know the premise was the NAZIs were seeking the Ark of the Covenant which held the Ten Commandments because they believed that whoever owned the Ark won the war. Keep in mind Stephen Spielberg is Jewish and is fully acquainted with Jewish history and teaching.
The Israelites in today’s reading were fighting the Philistines. Today we would call them the Palestinians.
The two sons of Eli were people who at best gave lip service to God they committed gross blasphemies and other sins violating probably every one of the commandments. One of the experiences Catholic priests have is someone comes and says Father I have not been to confession in so long I probably broke every commandment. Unless they robbed someone and killed someone else they did not break all ten commandments. However, in the case of Hophni and Phineas, it was probably true.
They went into battle with both Hophni and Phineas among others carrying the Ark with the full expectation that they would defeat the Philistines because they had the Ark. They lost the battle. Hophni and Phineas died and Eli was so shocked to hear the news he fell, broke his neck and also died all the same day.
Long before any of this happened, we have the scene in the Bible of the call of Samuel.
Why is this important? Because despite the total confusion going on in Israel at the time under the leadership of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, God is still in charge. God is still working in his grace. His grace cannot penetrate the hardened hearts of Hophni and Phineas but it can still penetrate the humble with whom he does his work. Samuel embodies humility with those words Speak Lord your servant is listening.
We are certainly living in a difficult time in this country. We saw the craziness of what happened at the Capitol building. We see the craziness of the electronic media issues. The story of the call of Samuel is one to remind us that God even works when all around us is in confusion. That is what we must never forget. This is God’s world. Humanity always has the choice to either participate in grace or reject grace but God is never not sending his grace to the world, he is never not working in the world.
As the confusion was happening in the time of Eli and Hophni, God was already working on what would come next.
This is a good lesson of the danger of sin and the need to seek holiness in all things. Hophni and Phineas defined the sin of presumption. That is the sin that you can do all you want because God will forgive you. It is a great deception. Their sin leads to great destruction. They presumed on God’s mercy, forgiveness and presence. They discovered they had none of it because they were not repentant of their sins. Their hearts were hardened, they loved their sin greater than God and became resistant to God’s grace in their lives. Their pride blinded them.
However, there is another lesson there. You see the philistines not only captured the Ark. They later returned it all apologetically.
It did not belong to them and they felt the Hebrews should have it back. What caused their change of heart? Well, it is not as dramatic as the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ack but it is the same principle. God will not be mocked. However, God can fight his own battles better than we can. This is why our mission to pursue holiness and let God fight our enemies. It does us no good to fight our enemies if we are not first seeking holiness. Focus on loving God above all things and remember he fights evil, we seek holiness.
We, personally and as a parish have the choice to be either Samuel or the sons of Eli.
Hopefully, we choose Samuel.
We can focus on the confusion or we can focus on Christ. Everything we do when we focus on Christ will lead us closer to him, even if everything around us is crazy.