Scripture for the Sunday after Trinity:
1 Samuel 3.1-20 (the calling of Samuel); Psalm 139.1-5,12-18; 2 Corinthians 4.5-12; Mark 2.23-3.6
There is a saying, uttered by cynics: “No good deed goes unpunished.” Readers of the new testament might well relate to this, pondering the fate of Jesus. He seems to have been surrounded by a hostile environment of people who simply failed to grasp what he was about: people for whom rules came before relationship, conviction before compassion.
Jesus met with hostility and opposition from many who found their own interests threatened by his prophetic utterances. The history of the people of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures shows that prophets were often disregarded or abused, yet the calling of Samuel shows something different. It is not only the story of a young boy called by God to be a prophet. It is also a story of neglect, because Eli had not cultivated in either his own sons (who went “off the rails”), nor even to his apprentice, Samuel, the obligation to listen for and to the voice of God.
The most awkward part of Samuel’s calling is the message that he is told to deliver to Eli about the demise of Eli and his heretical sons. That Samuel told the truth as he was instructed is a telling indication of the characteristics that would serve him in his adult role. But also, Eli’s rather sad acceptance of the judgement delivered upon him shows that ultimately, he must have been aware at some level of his failings.
Jesus, sadly, met with few who were as willing to receive his utterances with such acceptance. The leaders of Israel did not shoot the messenger. They crucified him instead. The expression of God’s will, and the pronouncement of God’s reign were and still are a threat to those who profit by a status quo that exploits the outcast and the poor.
Jesus could see though the masks worn by those who professed to be followers of the Jewish faith, yet ignored the obligations that accompanied that faith. He used the word ‘hypocrite’ a lot, a word that derives from the Greek for actor, wearing a mask – and Jesus would have known the term. In essence, he accused those who opposed him of simply acting, rather than acting out their faith and its values.
He confronted those who challenged the behaviour of his disciples by emphasising that ‘the Sabbath was made for humankind.’ It would be tempting to take this out of context and discard the Sabbath completely. Jesus, however, simply wanted common sense and compassion to be observed through Sabbath, which was intended to be for human progression.
Eli told Samuel to say, “Speak for your servant is listening.” How often might God be trying to speak to us, but we are not listening? Is it possible that we don’t even recognise the sound of God’s voice? If so, who can teach us? Is it possible that the very young and the old among us, those most often dismissed, are the ones with the insight, the wisdom, and the openness to teach? How often do we allow the prejudices built up during life’s passage to get in the way of those smaller voices that have something to tell us? How often to we allow them to get in the way of common-sense compassion? How often to we allow them to suppress the voice that guides us towards the way of God’s will? How often do we shoot the messengers – not only the external voices that speak the prophetic truth to power, but the still, small, inner voices that nag at us with God’s will?
The time to listen is not only upon us – it has been upon us for a long time. How often do we listen, and how much do we hear, of God’s prophetic voice?