In our first reading today, we hear a touching story about Samuel. It is such a familiar story, but we focus on the boy Samuel and often overlook the other character, Eli.
Eli was the high priest of the temple, an important man. He was also a failed parent, or at least a very disappointed parent. Both of his sons, scripture tells us, were scoundrels. We are told they have no regard for the Lord. That may sound familiar. I’ve heard so many times, “My child has left the faith. They never go to church.”
Eli knew all about that. He grieved for his wayward sons. It must have been painful for him. After all, he was the religious leader of the people, the high priest. People whispered behind his back. “He cannot control his own sons, how can he run the religious life of the nation?”
His sons didn’t listen. Sadly, this is a familiar story these days. But, the scripture is about something else. It has a more hopeful note. It points out that, despite our failures, God will not be without a voice and without a witness.
The boy, Samuel, the great and future Prophet of Israel, had his mind and spirit opened and sensitized by old Eli. This parent, who could not open the minds and hearts of his own sons, taught another how to listen to the voice of God. And, that is the redeeming note of hope that today’s first reading offers.
It tells all of us, children or parents; spouses or friends; anyone who has experienced failed relationships not to give up. This reading tells us that God always gives us a second chance or a second life. We can still reach out to others; be there for others, even if we weren’t successful with those closest to us.
We can be teacher, guide, confidant, mentor, counselor, consoler, pray-er and fellow pilgrim. And, we will often have more impact and be more influential, because our care and guidance and wisdom came from the hurts we have felt. All failed people can become wounded healers of others.
We can become Eli to other Samuels. We can teach others to hear when the Lord is calling, even if we missed it the first time around. That’s why I like the story of Eli. He must have been bitterly disappointed over his own sons. He must have been sad that he, a religious leader, had boys who no longer walked with the Lord.
Sons who took on another lifestyle. He must have prayed for them every day. He must have felt useless and feel as though he failed his sons. But, he had his moment and he seized it. This failed parent became the mentor to one of the greatest Prophets Israel ever knew.
Have you ever been disappointed by a relationship? Crushed by it? A relationship with a child, a spouse, a friend? Perhaps so hurt by it that you want to give up on everybody and withdraw?
Heed the lesson of Eli. Listen to the fullness of the story. Be comforted by what he did. And once in a while you may want to say, “Speak loudly. Your servant is listening.”