Today’s Old Testament passage, from 1 Samuel 3: 2-10, tells of the call of the boy Samuel who, as a prophet, would become one of the central figures in the life of Israel. Samuel’s birth was the answer to the prayers of his mother Hannah, who had been barren. In thanksgiving, she dedicated her son to the service of the Lord; thus Samuel served Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Eli’s own sons were delinquent and had ‘no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people’.
Samuel was called during a time when seeing visions and hearing the word of the Lord was rare. As the passage opens, Eli is lying down in his room, and Samuel is in the temple where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. The Ark itself was a portable shrine and symbol of the presence of God. When the Lord called Samuel’s name, the boy assumed that it was Eli and went to his bedside, as “Samuel did not know the Lord”. After this happened for the third time, Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel, and told Samuel to answer with these words: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. Some versions put it this way: “Here I am, your servant is listening”.
The Lord told Samuel that the words he was about to hear would make the ears of anyone who heard them tingle. Although the message that Samuel received from the Lord was a rejection of Eli for the transgressions of Eli’s sons, Eli unquestioningly accepted Samuel’s word as the will of the Lord. the old order of the priesthood had become corrupt and would be replaced, as foretold in an oracle previously delivered to Eli. Eli himself was devout and obedient, and his acceptance of Samuel’s words manifested his deep faith.
In this way, Samuel was being called to be the Lord’s prophet to all Israel, and the Lord ‘let none of his words fall to the ground’. According to tradition, Samuel was twelve years o ld at that time—the age when Jewish boys took on responsibility to observe the Law. With this we can compare Luke 2: 41– 52, an Epiphany Gospel passage, where we are told that Jesus was in the temple at the age of twelve sitting among doctors, asking and answering questions. His parents were looking for him not realizing that he was in his Father’s house, and he returned with them to Nazareth where he was subject to them. Thereafter, Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and he grew spiritually and socially.
This story of Samuel illustrates that a call is not dependent upon age or a previous relationship with the Lord. Both Samuel and Eli are models of those who hear and are obedient to the word of the Lord. Samuel had been living in the temple, surrounded by prayer and teaching, observing and hearing the ways of serving God, so when his call came, he was not shocked even as a young boy.
At the same time today’s Gospel story , John 1: 43-51, presents Jesus’ call to Philip and Nathaniel. While the details are sparse, the verses point out that God calls people in everyday life. To be called by God is to live in a manner worthy of that calling. Adults can open the doors of perception, experience divinity, and come to God in child-like fashion.
But John’s gospel describes a community call in which our experiences of call and vocational inspiration inspire us to invite others to be part of the Jesus movement.. There is no compulsion here, just invitation. “Come and see.” For those who respond, the heavens open up, new horizons emerge, and our lives are forever transformed.
My friends, the call of God goes forth everywhere, and the doctrines of God’s omnipresence and omniscience are not stale ideas, irrelevant to our lives, but they are in fact invitations to adventure—to see God everywhere, to experience God in our daily lives, to honour embodiment, and welcome revelation whenever and wherever it occurs. God is calling us daily to do his will; let us respond as Samuel did: “Speak Lord, I am listening.”