22 December – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:24-28

The reading comes from the beginning of the First Book of Samuel. In our Bible, there are two books, although there was only one in the original Hebrew. They speak about three principal characters – Samuel, Saul (Israel’s first king), and his successor, David.

The accounts of Samuel and Saul are found in the first book, while the second half of the first, and the whole of the second, deal with David. Like many of the more significant characters in the Old Testament, Samuel was born of a woman who was barren and had lost hope of having children. We mentioned already the cases of Sarah (Gen 17:16-19), Rebekah (Gen 25:21-26), Rachel (Gen 29:31; 30:22-24) and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-17).

As we saw in the case of Samson (see the First Reading commentary for 19 Dec), a woman giving birth late in life indicated that God played a special part in the birth of the child, who was destined for some outstanding service to God and his people. And so it is, too, with Samuel.

It all starts with an ordinary couple living a familiar drama in a hill town. A woman, afflicted with sterility, complains to Yahweh – she is not resigned to a seemingly useless life. Yahweh listens to the afflicted and his answer always exceeds what they ask for. He not only gives Hannah a son, he also gives his people a prophet.

According to the Christian Community Bible:

“God likes to choose his servants precisely from those families who have no hope of having children. It is God who gives life to the dead and hope to those who have none. The same happens with the birth of Isaac and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5). In the book of Isaiah is a poem which starts with these words: “Shout out for joy, oh you who were barren!” (Isa 54:1)

Hannah is gifted with a son, but as we saw earlier with Samson, he does not belong totally to her. The language suggests that he is ‘lent’ by God to her, because she will give him back to devote his whole life in the service of Yahweh. She dedicates the child, even before his birth, to be a minister in the sanctuary. And like Samson, his hair remains uncut as a sign of total dedication to God’s service. And, she confirms this in the final words of the reading:

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.

Many a mother must have prayed like this when she saw her son leave home to become a priest or Brother or her daughter leave to become a Sister.

Immediately following the reading is the Responsorial Psalm. It is actually not from one of the Psalms, but rather from 1 Samuel (2:1, 4-8), and represents the hymn of praise and thanksgiving Hannah makes for the birth of her son:

My heart exults in the Lord my Savior.

It is an ancient poem, originally thought to have nothing to do with Samuel’s birth, but it fits perfectly into the context.

In language and context, it bears many similarities to the Magnificat, the prayer of praise and thanksgiving that is put on the lips of Mary on the occasion of her Visitation to Elizabeth, and which is given in the Gospel for today. The Magnificat, however, is more personal in tone. Hannah and Samuel, then, are seen as prototypes of Elizabeth and John the Baptist, but also, though in a different way, of Mary and Jesus.

For us, it is an opportune time to see how God has called us to his service and to what extent we are following that call. Every one of us has a ‘vocation’ – we are all, through our Baptism, called to love and service of brothers and sisters, and to working together to build God’s Kingdom on earth. We might also at this time give thanks for our parents who brought us into this world and set us on the road to Life.

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