by Br Julian McDonald cfc
Eli then understood that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, and he said to Samuel: “Go and lie down, and if someone calls say: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” 1 Samuel 3, 3-10, 19
Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked: “What are you looking for?” John 1, 34-42
Marked declines in things like church attendance and voter turn-out in national elections all around the world suggest that there is an increasing lack of confidence on the part of ordinary people in government, Church and institutional leadership. The publication this week of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is symptomatic of ordinary people’s loss of faith in leadership, and their search for satisfaction and meaning beyond the institutions that have repeatedly failed them.
More and more people are simply fed up with the hypocrisy, the lies, the bickering and the betrayal by leaders and institutions of whom they had every right to expect better. They have embarked on their own searching to find meaning elsewhere.
Today’s gospel reading presents some of those who would eventually become Jesus’ earliest disciples as people searching for something they have not yet been able to properly articulate. Yet, they had high expectations: they wanted a messiah. They were blessed in finding Jesus. Not all who follow someone attractive have the good fortune to have their attention captured in the way that Jesus captured theirs.
Of significance in the first reading from the Book of Samuel and the Gospel reading is the fact that they give attention to three people who were instrumental in helping others in their search for meaning in their lives. Eli directed a very young Samuel to be attentive to the voice of God, John the Baptist directed two of his own disciples – Andrew and one who is not named – to make contact with Jesus, and Andrew, in his turn, invited his brother Simon to meet with Jesus, whom Andrew had already recognized as the Messiah. The same Andrew was later to bring to Jesus the youngster with the five loaves and two dried fish and to introduce to Jesus the group of Greeks who had come to him asking: “Sir, we would like to meet Jesus” (John 12, 22). All three of these characters leave me asking myself if I have ever been instrumental in helping anyone in his or her searching for God, the only real answer to everyone’s search for meaning.
It is worth taking a few minutes to reflect on Eli’s life. He is described as a father who knew bitter disappointment in his own life. Despite his holding the very significant position of high priest, Eli was unsuccessful in his efforts to raise his two sons in the faith and traditions of Judaism. They are described as having “no regard for the Lord”. Eli would have had to endure the gossip and criticism of a congregation wondering about his capacity as a religious leader when he couldn’t get his own sons to darken the doors of the Temple or a local synagogue. Eli is a sign of hope for all disappointed parents and grandparents. While he could not open the minds and hearts of his own sons, he taught one of the great future prophets of Israel to listen to the voice of God. Eli is a sign of hope for all of us. However fragile we are, we all can be wounded healers for others, perhaps even without knowing it. By living authentically our vocation as disciples of Jesus, we can all be teachers of life and integrity to others.
In the gospel reading of today, we hear the Baptist selflessly directing two of his own disciples not just to notice Jesus but to “behold” him – to take hold of Jesus, to grasp the significance of who he really is. That same invitation is directed to us. We, too, are invited to open ourselves to the presence of Jesus in our midst; to encounter Jesus present in everyone with whom we engage each day. We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus as one of us, as one in whom God has taken on our humanity in all its messiness, failure and disappointment. But in Jesus we can also learn how to manage our lives with compassion, graciousness, generosity and love.
We also know that we do not always measure up as encouragers to those around us who are searching. And it’s not out of malice that we fail. All too often we are slow to reveal to others our deeper, richer selves, simply because we are reluctant to acknowledge our own goodness and worth. We sell ourselves short because we don’t appreciate ourselves as known to and loved by Jesus. It is important for us to accept that we, like Andrew, have a mission to proclaim Jesus by the way we live and act. Today’s gospel reading makes it clear that it was only through Andrew that Simon came to encounter Jesus, and that it was only through the Baptist that Andrew himself found his way to Jesus. Our role is to be Andrew and the Baptist for others.
Finally, let’s not forget that, in our Christian tradition, searching is a two-way-street. However intense may be our personal searching for truth, for meaning, for God, let’s remember that God is always searching to find a way into our lives. God persisted with young Samuel. We can we sure that God will be equally persistent with us, too. Eloquent testimony to that can be found in Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. (It’s readily available in full on “Professor Google”.)