Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, "Here I am." Samuel ran to Eli and said, "Here I am. You called me." "I did not call you, " Eli said. "Go back to sleep." So he went back to sleep. Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. "Here I am, " he said. "You called me." But Eli answered, "I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep."
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, "Here I am. You called me." Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, "Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening."
When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel answered, "Speak, for your servant is listening.
1 Samuel 3:3b-10
First Reading for Mass
Sunday, January 14, 2018
The boy Samuel was still a resident apprentice with the old priest Eli when he was rudely awakened by an unrecognized voice one night as he slept in the Temple. Eli was the only other person around, it seems, so Samuel quite naturally got up from his sleeping mat, perhaps grumbling a little as we might, and ran in to ask Eli what he wanted. But Eli hadn’t called. When the same thing happened two more times, Eli recognized what was happening and told the boy that if the voice woke him again, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel seems to have been an obedient boy, but he didn’t quite answer as Eli had told him to. Instead of saying, “Speak, Lord,” he just said rather abruptly, “Speak. for your servant is listening.”
This passage is often used in retreats, workshops and talks on finding one’s personal calling. When you feel a sense of call, a speaker will say, you might ignore it at first, but if it keeps returning, turn to God in prayer to find out what God is calling you to do.
Good advice, but the biblical passage is also something of a cautionary tale. When we feel an inner urge or call, perhaps we should be warned by Samuel’s small disobedience. To turn to God and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” is one thing. To respond instead, as if to the empty air, “Speak, your servant is listening,” is exactly what we often do when we feel an inner urge but don’t take the time or trouble to identify who or what it is that is calling us. We feel the tug and obey it, as if, like Samuel, we were asleep when it came and haven’t quite awakened enough to pay real attention to what’s going on.
What if, without realizing it, we stumble too quickly from urge to action, only to discover that the voice belonged to the chocolate cake in the refrigerator or the kind of curiosity that has a lethal effect on cats or the spontaneous chemistry that flames up when we meet someone who attracts us physically or a coworker says casually, “I just found an app that lets me download pirated music and videos! Want a copy?”
Prompt obedience to God’s voice is a good thing, but prompt obedience to unidentified voices can get us into a lot of trouble.
There are lots of voices buzzing in our mind’s ears every day. When one seems louder and stronger than usual, and we feel the urge to hop off our sleeping mat and go and do as it says, we might be better off taking the time to stop and say what Samuel didn’t: “Here I am, but who are you?”
Copyright 2018, Abbey of St. Walburga