The First Reading today speaks to us of the Call of Samuel. In examining we can see what it is that makes a great prophet. Put more theologically we can see the ways in which God’s graces form a great prophet. Samuel was surely one of the most significant prophets of the Old Testament and lived at a critical time as Israel shifted from the time of the Judges to the time of the Monarchy. Ultimately it was he who would see Israel through he difficult time of Saul’s reign and prepare and anoint them for David’s Kingship to follow.
What then are some of the ways that God prepares Samuel and every prophet (this means you) for mission? Consider these five.
1. The CLOSENESS of a great Prophet – In the first reading we find the young Samuel sleeping in the temple of the Lord. In those days the temple was not yet in Jerusalem and was not yet a permanent building. It was a tent structure in Hebron and Samuel, as one in training for temple duties, is sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant which carried the presence of God. Thus we see that a great prophet begins and remains so by staying close to the Lord.
We who would also be prophets must do the same if we wish to be great prophets to our family members and friends. Who will a priest preach with authority and power if he does not stay close to the Lord. How will a parent give prophetic witness to their children if the Lord is a distant God to them?
How do we draw close to the Lord? Daily Prayer, daily and devout reading of scripture, frequent confession, weekly reception of Holy Communion, and a spirit of wonder of and awe. Ask for these virtues. Stay close to the Lord. Great prophets stay close to the Lord.
2. The CONSTERNATION of a great Prophet – The first reading depicts Samuel as struggling with some confusion as to what and who he is hearing. God is calling, but he doesn’t get it. He struggles to figure out what is happening to him. A look at the call of most of the great prophets reveals that most of them struggled with their call. Moses felt old, inarticulate and inadequate. Jeremiah felt too young, Isaiah too sinful. Amos would have been content to remain a dresser of sycamores. Most prophets feel overwhelmed and experience consternation.
Samuel as we see, eventually figures it out who is calling him and begins his journey. He had to listen for a awhile to to do however.
How about you? Many of us too would want to run if God made it clear he had something for us to do. In a way, it is a proper response, for pride is a bad trait for a prophet. To experience a bit of trouble, consternation and anxiety helps to keep us humble and leaning on the Lord.
What is the Lord asking of you? Perhaps like Samuel you struggle to understand at first. But stay close to God. Things will eventually become clear.
The great prophets struggled. But that is the point, they struggled with God for an answer and for a vision.
3. The CONNECTEDNESS of a great Prophet – Notice that Samuel does not discern alone. He seeks counsel from a wiser man to help him. Though Eli is not a perfect teacher, God does make use of him to help Samuel.
So too for us, who ought to seek good, strong spiritual friends and clergy to help us discern. Scripture says, Seek counsel from every wise man (Tobit 4:18). It is a bad idea to discern alone. Hence we should cultivate relationships with wise and spiritual men and women in our journey.
Great prophets are connected to spiritual leaders and teachers. Prophets read and consulted other prophets. God does not just call us to a vertical private relationship with him. He also connects us to a horizontal relationship with others. Seek wise counsel, great prophets do.
4. The CORE of a great Prophet – Samuel is advised by Eli to say to God: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. A great prophet listens to God. And God does not always say easy things. He often challenges in what he says, and wants to send them. But great prophets listen, they listen very carefully to God. They do not try and bury his word or become forgetful of what he says. They take seriously what they hear and do not compromise God’s Word.
And what of us? It is too easy to avoid listening to God, or to compromise on what we have heard. But great prophets listen carefully to God by: reading and studying his word, looking at how he speaks in creation and in the events of their day, studying the teachings of the Church and carefully, prayerfully listening to the still small voice within.
To you want to be a great prophet? Listen.
5. The CONVERSION of a great Prophet. We see in Samuel’s life how be became gradually transformed into a great prophet of God who never compromised God’s word. The text says: Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect. Because Samuel was close to the Lord, faced his consternation, was connected to the wise, and had that core virtue of listening, he became a great prophet. The text says in Hebrew (more literally) that not a word of his fell to the ground.
Being a great prophet is a work of God. But we, who would and should be great prophets ourselves, ought to heed the way God works to make great prophets. Learn from Samuel, study all the prophets, and you will see what God can do.
And while most of us wish our words had greater effect, it is less clear we want to undertake the process to get there. Ask for the gift. Ask for the gift to stay close to God, to struggle and accept some of the consternation that comes with being a prophet. Seek to be connected to wise counsel, learn the core value of listening. And thus will God bring about in us a conversion such that none of your words will ever fall to the ground.
This song says, The Lord gave the Word, Great was the company of the preachers.