Reflection for Second Sunday of Epiphany
“Then Eli said, It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3: 18b)
The much-loved story of Samuel’s call in 1 Samuel 3, telling us how he came to be Israel’s priestly-prophetic leader, will be remembered by many of us as a favourite Sunday-school lesson and by others as the basis for the hymn “Hushed was the evening hymn” with that lovely tune by Arthur Sullivan ( I recommend you google it). But for me the central character in this story is not Samuel but Eli.
Eli is old, his eyesight is going. He has failed to bring his sons up properly – they are a disgrace to him and to God – and his bankrupt priesthood is under judgement. Festivals are celebrated at Shiloh, offerings are made, prayers are prayed, but “the word of the Lord was rare” (v1). Comically, the Lord has to announce his presence three times before Eli, his representative, recognises him.
Yet there is pathos in the description of Eli. When the penny drops, he knows how to advise Samuel on how to open himself to the voice of God; when God’s word is addressed to him personally, he insists on hearing it; when, as he must have expected, it turns out to be a word of judgement (v18), he accepts it with a magnificent reverent submission that is the mark of faithfulness in many OT stories.
Eli might have simply fallen into despair at that low-point, but God stayed with him. To paraphrase Rosalind Brown (“Fresh From the Word” 2016), without Eli’s guidance, Samuel could not have grown into a great prophet. It seems that this call of Samuel was also a call to Eli to have, in the words of the Collect for today, the poverty of his nature transformed by the riches of God’s grace, and in the renewal of his life to make known God’s glory.
Whoever and whatever we are, even if we are as weak and ineffectual as Eli, God invites us in Epiphany to allow him to transform and renew our lives, so that through us his glory may be seen.
This weeks reflection has been prepared for us by Brian Churchill a licensed Reader at ST Michaels Church Abergele