Daily Reflection
January 14th, 2008

Eileen Burke-Sullivan

Theology Department
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Clearly the Church has “beginnings” in mind for us on this first Monday of Ordinary Time. In both readings we are given wonderful stories to contemplate, allowing God to guide us toward deeper experience of and appreciation for His desire for each one of us.

The Gospel passage is a “call text,” a story that describes Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples (and obviously the rest of the Church) to follow him. On first blush, the purpose of the story is clearly to witness how a true disciple responds – promptly and unquestioningly. This scriptural banquet is certainly more than enough to chew on in these early days of ordinary time, not just this first Monday. Throughout winter Ordinary Time, following the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and before the season of Lent begins, the Church challenges us to hear and obey the summons to discipleship that everyone baptized into Christ has received.

Today’s Old Testament reading from first Samuel might lead us on a different meditative path. The text sets the stage for the conception of Samuel, the judge and prophet that serves as God’s agent for the establishment of the Davidic Monarchy. The story begins with a vivid description of a rather poignant domestic problem of one Elkanah, a modestly well-off Jew of the Tribe of Ephraim, who is faithful to the laws demanding regular sacrifice to Yahweh (at a time when the priests are less than ethical or faithful about their responsibilities and commitments). Elkanah’s story could actually be understood to be a good argument for monogamy, but the Tribes of Israel haven’t yet come to the place where that practice is seen as a value, so this good man has two wives, Hannah, his more deeply beloved who happens to be barren, and Peninnah who he seemingly cares for less deeply, but who gives him many children.

In the ancient Jewish world the inability to bear children is clearly interpreted as a curse – a sign of God’s disfavor. The text even states that it is the LORD who has withheld children to Hannah. This barren condition sets her up to be jeered and made fun of by Peninnah, who, one could assume, is especially mean because she is jealous of Hannah’s greater financial and emotional support from Elkanah. We could also assume that the condition causes Hannah to be scorned by her peers in the community that surrounds this less-than-perfect family. From Hannah’s perspective a deeper source of worry would be that she is equally scorned by God, and if Elkanah had met an untimely death, she would have been destitute. She would hardly have counted on Peninnah or her children for support. So despite her “favored wife” situation, Hannah was vulnerable and, as a result, she was miserable. The end of today’s reading leaves us with the tender but seemingly clueless question of Elkanah “Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

What we will discover in the readings of the next few days, is that God answers Hannah’s plight and remedies her situation by sending a very special son – one who will execute God’s judgment and justice in a number of ways and situations. But today’s passage ends with Elkanah’s painful question and no other clue of God’s compassion. What might we draw from the texts given today for our instruction? It seems to me that both the first reading and Gospel point to God’s activity in all things human. God is not just concerned, but God is profoundly involved in every human affair; working out the salvation of all creation, and bringing forth the reign of God within the human condition both sad and joyful, both sinful and heroic! These texts affirm the message of the Christmas season just celebrated: God’s saving work is accomplished by humans and within human relationships and deeds.

One of the earliest and most persistent heresies within Christianity is the exclusive focus on Jesus’ divinity. It is precisely within his human nature that Jesus is able to save the created order. It is the human Jesus that the fishermen are called to follow. Human life and our human relationships are the location for the Reign of God if and when we submit our “barren state” to God’s desire. Not in some ideal future, rather we are called now, in the midst of fishing, or teaching, or at the market, or in the operating or board room to become the disciple who assists in disclosing the reign of God already unleashed within humanity. It is in the place where we feel helpless or barren that God is acting to bring about the future goodness of the created order.

Whether we ponder the first reading and hear God’s voice in the very human plea of Elkanah, “Am I not more precious to you than _________ (whatever will give us security and future)?”, or we take up the Gospel and hear the human Jesus ask us to drop everything to follow him now in our current situation, today is the first day of the disclosure of God’s reign in our ordinary life in this New Year.

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