In the First Reading, Samuel, who was still young, was waked up by hearing his name called in the night. He thought that the person calling him was Eli, the old priest whom Samuel served. But Samuel was wrong in thinking this. It was the Lord calling.
It took three times of God calling before the experienced old priest Eli tumbled to the fact that it was God who was calling Samuel. It took four times of God calling before Samuel finally answered by saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Who would believe this story? Wouldn’t you suppose that if God called you, you would know something very special had happened? Who would believe that God could call you and you wouldn’t recognize that you were having a wild, spooky, religious experience? Who would believe that you could get the voice of God confused with the voice of the old guy in the neighboring room?
The answer is ‘Eli.’ That is, in the story, it is the wise old priest who believes these things. It is Eli who understands that you can be in direct contact with God and still not know that it is God who is talking to you.
But if God’s voice can be confused with some ordinary voice, how does Eli know, how does Samuel know, how does anyone know that it is God calling?
The answer is that you can’t know until you are willing to listen. God doesn’t force monologues on the unwilling. He invites to conversation. When Samuel is ready to tell God that he is willing to listen, then the real connection between God and Samuel begins.
The connection that starts with that willingness of Samuel grows into a friendship that is rightly described this way: the Lord was with Samuel. At that point, no one at all could miss the fact that it was God who had called Samuel.
And so here is one moral of the story. The voice of God can be anywhere, in any guise. It isn’t thunder and lightening or extraordinary psychic happenings that connect a person to God. Rather, it is the willingness to listen, to trust and obey, that makes the Lord known.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University