Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we enter the first week of Ordinary Time, the readings have us contemplating new beginnings — a fitting topic as we continue to lean into the New Year!
We hear about the conception, birth and consecration of Samuel — the last judge of Israel and the one who anointed the first two kings of Israel. It’s the beginning of the extraordinary life of Samuel and the beginning of a new phase of Israel’s history.
We also see the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. The healings and exorcisms begin immediately and the people’s reaction is telling: “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” And, “We have never seen anything like this.”
In both cases, God is doing something new. Within that theme of newness, however, there is also a call and challenge to us: to listen more deeply to God’s voice.
We hear one of the great stories of the Hebrew Scriptures: the call of Samuel. God calls Samuel three times during the night. Each time he runs to the priest Eli, thinking that Eli was calling him. Finally, Eli figures out that God is calling Samuel. One of the most fascinating features of Samuel’s call is how the Bible remarks that “At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord.” Samuel had grown up in the temple at Shiloh! Still, he did not know what the living voice of God sounded like. He was called to learn a new and deeper kind of listening, and that listening became the cornerstone of his prophetic ministry.
We also hear the call of the apostles Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, John and Levi (Matthew) in the Gospel this week. These are men who would have known the Scriptures. But they heard the voice of the living God in a new way. Like Samuel, they learned a deeper way of listening and following.
The importance of listening is highlighted by some important counter-examples in the readings as well. We hear of Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, who didn’t listen to God’s law or the warning of their father and brought disaster upon Israel. We hear of the leper who, having been cleansed, didn’t listen to Jesus and made it impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. We hear of the people of Israel, who refused to listen to Samuel’s warning about what it would mean for them to have a king, and displaced God as their rightful king.
The consequences of listening and not listening are made abundantly clear this week!
The Olympic Games open in less than a month. One of the things we learn from Olympic athletes is that excellence comes from discipline. Drawing a lesson from that for the life of faith, we might say that excellence in discipleship comes from the discipline of listening to the Lord.
Like Samuel, many of us have grown up in the temple of the Lord. Like Samuel, we are called to learn a deeper kind of listening. It would be a good discipline to work on for the New Year.