|1 Samuel 1:1-8
Psalm 116:12-13, 14-17, 18-19
Today marks the beginning of “Ordinary Time” in the liturgical calendar. We ourselves feel the “ordinariness” of these days after the Christmas season. “Ordinary” can connote something that is blah and taken for granted. However, our readings invite us into the opposite, namely tasting extraordinary love in the midst of what might be seen as ordinary.
We begin with a story: a love story. The reading from the book of Samuel tells of a man by the name of Elkanah who had two wives, one named Hannah, the other Penninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah was childless. This man would regularly travel on pilgrimage to “worship the Lord of hosts.” When he would travel, “he used to give a portion each to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters, but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her, though the Lord had made her barren. Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her that the Lord had left her barren. This went on year after year; each time they made their pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Lord, Peninnah would reproach her, and Hannah would weep and refuse to eat. Her husband Elkanah used to ask her: 'Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat? Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?'"
I frame this as a love story because of the “double portion” that this man gave to his wife who was “empty”. He knew her pain and sought to comfort her with a small gesture of his love. How tender the image; how ordinary -- he simply gave her some extra food.
Here the “antagonist” comes into the picture. Hannah’s rival would taunt her and point out to her how little she had, how poor she was. Here lies the critical point of the story. Hannah’s response is to focus on the negative as she lingers on what she lacks and misses the lavish love that she does have. We hear this lament from her husband who longs for her to taste the love and acceptance that is hers with him.
How often you and I do the same: we focus on the negative and miss the good we receive from others and from God. So often negative comments, events, and disdain for our human lacks taunt us and drown out the love and acceptance that are ours to relish. Often we hear the negative from those who are closest and most dear to us -- our spouse, children, roommates, friends or members of our community. Their small lacks and insensitivities play on our own insecurities and fears of inadequacy and we focus here.
I suggest that this new beginning of ordinary time invites us into a new focus, a focus on love. Paul’s familiar letter to the Corinthians draws us into the love of the heart of the Trinity: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13: 4-8)
Let us focus on Christ’s love by first listening for ways each day that God and others are giving us “a double portion” through events and simple acts of kindness and support. Second, let us seek to love others -- especially those we hold most dear -- with acts of self-forgetfulness and tender patience. This brings us to the happy ending of the love story -- for nothing fulfills our deepest longings more than to receive and to offer love.
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