This selection from the first book of Samuel is deceptive.
On the surface, it is the simple call of Samuel in his youth. It’s the sort of passage retreat directors like to give their people at some key point in a retreat. “Go pray about how God calls you.” However…
What seems to be a bit of a communication problem turns out to be, again on the surface, a question of discernment: “Who is calling?” Since neither Samuel nor Eli are well trained yet in their listening skills it takes a few tries before Eli actually gets it. You know the rest.
However, notice that today’s first reading skips over eight verses that end up putting a different interpretation on the whole story! You’ll have to go back to your bibles to read the whole text, but it includes this part in which God tells young Samuel to prophecy concerning the family of Eli, the priest:
"I announce to him that I am condemning his family once and for all, because of this crime: though he knew his sons were blaspheming God, he did not reprove them.
Therefore, I swear to the family of Eli that no sacrifice or offering will ever expiate its crime.”
God had already warned Eli about his sons (see chapter 2) and now has Samuel announce the sentence.
This simple story about God calling an innocent youth turns out to be a call to Samuel to announce the crushing news to his adopted father. It’s a strong critique of the exercise of his priesthood, even though he had intervened with his sons!
What is most interesting is that Eli unwittingly conspired in his own call to conversion! By helping young Samuel recognize the voice of God that was calling him, he prepared the way for this youth to prophecy to him.
Here’s the gig: I don’t expect my students to speak prophetically to me. If I really think about it, I expect them to more so than not, mirror my view, my way of looking at the world. I’m struck today how much of a risk it is to foster a younger generation these days and expect them to call me to conversion as each lives out his/her authentic vocation. Yikes!