Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The LORD Humbles, He Also Exalts.

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I 1 Samuel 1:9-20
Hannah rose after a meal at Shiloh,
and presented herself before the LORD;
at the time, Eli the priest was sitting on a chair
near the doorpost of the LORD’s temple.
In her bitterness she prayed to the LORD, weeping copiously,
and she made a vow, promising:
“O LORD of hosts,
if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid,
if you remember me and do not forget me,
if you give your handmaid a male child,
I will give him to the LORD
for as long as he lives;
neither wine nor liquor shall he drink,
and no razor shall ever touch his head.”

As she remained long at prayer before the LORD,
Eli watched her mouth,
for Hannah was praying silently;
though her lips were moving,
her voice could not be heard.
Eli, thinking her drunk,
said to her,
“How long will you make a drunken show of yourself?
Sober up from your wine!”

“It isn’t that, my lord,”Hannah answered.
“I am an unhappy woman.
I have had neither wine nor liquor;
I was only pouring out my troubles to the LORD.
Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well;
my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.”

Eli said, “Go in peace,
and may the God of Israel grant you
what you have asked of him.”

She replied,
“Think kindly of your maidservant,” and left.
She went to her quarters,
ate and drank with her husband,
and no longer appeared downcast.
Early the next morning they worshiped before the LORD,
and then returned to their home in Ramah.

When Elkanah had relations with his wife Hannah,
the LORD remembered her.
She conceived,
and at the end of her term bore a son
whom she called Samuel,
since she had asked the LORD for him.


In today’s First Reading, we find Hannah, the barren wife of Elkanah, still at the Lord’s central sanctuary in Shiloh. The sanctuary is also referred to in 1 Samuel as the “Lord’s temple” and as “the house of the Lord” or “the Tent of Meeting” and “my dwelling”. There references to the sanctuary as a “house” and a “temple” as well mention of “sleeping quarters” and “doors”. This suggests that at this time the sanctuary or ‘tabernacle’ was a larger, more permanent building.While Eli the priest sat near the door, Hannah prayed in tears to God begging to have her shame removed. She asks the Lord to “remember” her. This is not simply to be aware of her existence but to go into action on her behalf.

She was making a vow that, if God gave her a male child, she would dedicate him entirely to God’s service for the whole of his life. This was in contrast to the normal period of service for Levites, which was from the ages of 25 to 50. Her offer of her son to Yahweh is similar to promises made with Isaac, Samson and John the Baptist where God was seen to intervene in the birth. Hannah’s child, Samuel, born of a barren mother would – like them – be dedicated to service in the sanctuary. As with Samson, too, leaving the hair uncut would be a sign of dedication to the Lord, although there is no mention here of Samson as a ‘nazirite’. The nazirite vow was normally taken for a limited time rather than for life, as is happening here. Also, the son that Hannah seeks will, like Samson, drink neither wine nor liquor.

Hannah prayed in this way for a long time in silence though her lips moved. Since people usually prayed out loud, Eli thought she was drunk. Heavy drinking was apparently not unusual on the occasion of big feasts. He told her severely to sober up and stop making a show of herself. She asked him not to think badly of her; she was not drunk, only deeply unhappy as she begged the Lord to hear her prayer.

Eli, seeing the true situation, then sent her off with a lovely blessing: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked him.” She only asked him in return to think more kindly of her.

After going back home, she ate with her husband and experienced a kind of peace. The next day they went once more to the sanctuary to pray and then returned to their home in Ramah. And now, when Elkanah had intercourse with Hannah, “the Lord remembered her”, as she had asked him. She conceived and gave birth to a boy, whom “she named Samuel, since she had asked the Lord for him”. A derivation from the root sha’al (to ask) would give sha’ul from which one gets the name Saul. However, biblical etymology was often, as here, content with an approximate similarity of sound. The actual derivation of ‘Samuel’ is from Shem-El, ‘the name of God’ or ‘(God’s) name is El’.

This story is one of a number in the Bible where barren women are given children by God’s intervention. In every case, the child has a calling to serve God in a very special way. Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah was one of these as was Samson, who helped God’s people defeat the Philistines. Much later, Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist although well past child-bearing age. He too will be dedicated to God in a special way.

Mary, too, under special circumstances will give birth to Jesus through God’s intervention. We will see later how Samuel will become a prophet of the Lord and be involved with the career of David as king.

Perhaps our birth has not been accompanied by such special circumstances, yet each one of us is, in a special kind of way, a gift from God to our parents and each one of us has a calling, a vocation, to serve him and our brothers and sisters in a unique way.

Let us identify with that call and, with God’s help, try to respond to it as well as we can.

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Responsorial Psalm 1 Samuel 2
My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.”
My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he humbles, he also exalts.”
My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.”
My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.

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Gospel Mark 1:21-28
Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers,
and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.


Today’s Gospel Reading is the first part of a day in the life of Jesus in which he carries out the main activities of his mission – teaching and healing. He goes to Capernaum, the centre of much of his work, and on a Sabbath day, like every observant Jew, goes to the synagogue. And, like any Jews who wishes to do so, he addresses the congregation.

He begins to teach the people. Much of Jesus’ work will consist of teaching, of communicating his message, his vision of life. People are deeply impressed because, unlike the Scribes, he speaks with authority. The Scribes could only interpret, give the meaning of the Scripture. Jesus spoke in his own right. Jesus speaks in the best tradition of the great prophets. But there is more. Jesus’ authority is empowering and liberating, it is not oppressive or subjugating. He will say in John’s gospel: “The truth will make you free.”

Right there in the synagogue was a man possessed by an “unclean” spirit. It was called ‘unclean’ because of its basic resistance to the holiness of God. This was a world where many unexplained symptoms in people were attributed to evil powers and were often believed to be the punishment for sinful behavior. The spirit resented the presence of Jesus. “I know who you are: the Holy One of God”. It was believed that, by giving a hostile spirit its exact name, one could have power over him. But Jesus silences the evil spirit and tells it to come out of the man, who experiences a kind of fit and cries out.

Again the people are amazed at the power and authority of this man Jesus. He has new teaching and can give orders to evil spirits. The question is being asked: “Just who is this man?” It is a question that is the underlying theme of the first half of this gospel.

It is up to us to submit ourselves to the same empowering authority of Jesus, to listen to his teaching by steeping ourselves in his Gospel message and experiencing his healing and liberation in our lives.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

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