Wednesday of Week 1 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10,19-20

Today’s First Reading is about the call of Samuel as prophet. Samuel is now a young boy, serving the priest Eli in the sanctuary at Shiloh. The Jewish historian Josephus places his age at 12 years, though he may have been older. What follows is heightened by the statement that revelations and visions of God were at that time very infrequent. The book of Judges (which covers this period) indicates that very few prophets or messengers of God appeared. During the entire period of the Judges, apart from the anonymous prophet mentioned in chap 2 (not covered in the liturgical readings), we are told of only two prophets and of five revelations.

We are told that one day Eli was asleep in his usual place in the sanctuary:

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…

The reference is to the golden lampstand, which stood opposite the table of the bread of the Presence in the Holy Place. It was still night, but the early morning hours were approaching when the flame grew dim or went out. For the lamp to be permitted to go out before morning was a violation of the Pentateuchal regulations.

It is at this moment when God calls Samuel. Samuel, in his sleep, hears his name being called. Still inexperienced in recognising the presence of the Lord, he thinks that Eli is calling him. Twice he hears the call and twice Eli denies that he called. Eli’s own failure not at once to recognise God’s voice may be indicative that he was not very close to God. In fact, and sadly, he was not very effective as a prophet (see 1 Sam 2:22-26).

But at the third call, Eli begins to realise that something special is going on. He sends the boy back to bed and tells him that the next time he hears a call he is to answer:

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

And the Lord does call a third time and Samuel responds as he was told. Now the Lord reveals his presence, but what the Lord said to him at that time is not recorded. However, by this first revelation, Samuel is consecrated a prophet. It was not a dream because the voice awakened Samuel. Nor was it a ‘vision’ except in the wide sense, since Samuel heard but did not see Yahweh.

We are told that, from then on, the Lord was with Samuel and his words were always spoken and listened to with effect. He was a true and reliable prophet who faithfully transmitted the word of the Lord. Throughout the country from Dan to Beersheba, that is, from the very north to the south, Samuel was recognised as a prophet of the Lord.

There are two possible reflections for us in this reading. We might ask ourselves how often has the Lord called us and we have mistaken it for something else or not heard it at all? Yet, through people and experiences in our daily life, God is constantly calling us to his love and service and to come close to him. Let us be alert this day to any calls he may make.

Second, by our baptism we, too, are in a special way called to be prophets, i.e. to be bearers of the Gospel message through our words and actions. How will people come to know Christ and the Gospel if not through us?

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