Because the lectionary does not include what God said to Samuel during the encounter about which we read yesterday, today’s reading might come as a surprise to us. Yesterday we heard a rather endearing story about a young boy who heard God’s voice in the middle of the night; today we hear of the defeat of Israel at the hands of the Philistines.
The defeat of Israel’s army was part of the message that God shared with Samuel on the night he was called. God tells Samuel that the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, were guilty of blasphemy. Eli, however, had done nothing about it neither as a parent nor as the high priest. So God told Samuel that Israel’s army would be defeated at the hands of the Philistines.
The question that the Israelites ask might be the question you are asking after listening to this story. The children of Israel ask, “Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?” Such passages from the Scriptures also cause people of today some difficulty. If God is a God of compassion and love and forgiveness, why does God permit such a disaster to befall on Israel? The answer to the question lies in what was accomplished by the defeat of Israel. The house of Eli and his sons was destroyed and a new dynasty of judges was established because of this defeat. Samuel takes over as the chief judge of Israel and leads the people back to a right relationship with God. The various pagan groves and sanctuaries were torn down. The covenant of Sinai became the prevailing law. God was establishing a new house, choosing a faithful priest and beginning a new chapter in salvation history that would eventually lead to the birth of the Messiah.
It is not enough to say that God’s ways are mysterious, though they are. It is not enough to say that God has a plan for our lives, though it is so. We ought to consider why God acts in our lives at all. God acts because God loves us. God has only one reason for choosing us as a special possession, sheer gratuitous love. So while we might have a difficult time reading of such events, it is important that we remember that these disastrous events led to the birth of Jesus, the final revelation of God.
We also might pay heed to what brought about God’s decision; namely, the desertion of God’s laws on the part of the children of Israel. Jesus is our example of obedience. Eli and his sons are an example of those who disobey God’s laws.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator