The Call of Eli

January 17, 2021; Samuel 3: 3b-10, 19; 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading describes the call of the young boy Samuel to be God prophet. But today I do not want to focus on Samuel. Instead, I want to examine another character of the story, Eli. Eli was the priest under whom Samuel apprenticed while he was in the temple. We know from other parts of the bible that at this time the Eli was eighty-eight years old and blind. In today’s passage he performs his most important biblical action. He enables Samuel to recognize that God was calling him. When God calls Samuel, Samuel thinks that it is Eli calling him. Three times he runs to Eli and says, “Here I am. You called me.” But the third time Eli recognizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that if he hears the voice again, he should respond, “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So, when God calls Samuel the next time, he is ready. He responds and becomes the first great prophet of Israel.

The character of Eli reminds us that God may ask us to help someone understand their own calling. God may call us to be an agent through whom another person recognizes God’s will. This could happen in our own family, when a family member is stuck and unable to make the decisions that will allow life to move forward. It could happen with a close friend who is hurt by a person or a situation and now is unable to live, because he or she cannot find the path to forgiveness. It could happen in our workplace or in our school when we see someone overwhelmed by their responsibilities, fighting to keep their head above the water and wondering whether their life has a future. In any one of these circumstances and in many others, God may be asking us to give that person a little push in the right direction. God might be calling us to be an Eli and help someone else recognize God’s will.

Two other insights flow from this story. The first is this: You do not need to be a perfect fit to undertake this helping function. Eli was eighty-eight years old and blind, but he had enough knowledge and insight to show Samuel what was happening. We do not need to be a perfect fit to help others. We might think, “I hardly know that person? Should not his or her family be the ones to give guidance?” We might believe that we are too old or too young to speak out, that we are not as educated or outgoing as other people are. All of these things can be true, but God may be still calling us to help another person to find his or her way. 

Secondly, we do not need to be successful on our first try. It took Eli three times before he figured out what Samuel needed to hear. Therefore, if we try to help someone else and there is no success, it does not mean we have failed. God may provide other opportunities, and one of those opportunities may prove effective.

Today’s first reading is rightly named, “The Call of Samuel.” But we could also see it as, “The Call of Eli.” Eli’s role was necessary, if Samuel was to understand his mission. So even if we are not a perfect fit, even if we tried before, God may still be asking us to reach out and help others, so that they may become the people that God wants them to be.     

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