This weekend we have two familiar stories in our Scripture selections: the dream-like vision of Samuel and the calling of Andrew and his brother Peter. One of the risks we have with familiar stories is that we can be overconfident that we recall all the details. But were all the details that surround the story included in the version we learned? For instance, consider the line in Scripture that immediately precedes the opening of the story of Samuel: “When the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under the direction of Eli, there were few messages from the Lord, and visions were quite rare.” This phrase “visions were rare” (some translations say “precious”) does not appear anywhere else in the entire Old Testament. It’s no wonder it did not dawn on Samuel his summons might be from God.
The story tells us that Samuel is confused, not just your average sleepy-head befuddled, but really confounded. Three times, Samuel responds to a calling – or is it really four times? Three times he responds to what he thinks is Eli calling him: “Here I am.” It’s not until Eli becomes more fully awake and realizes what is going on. Then, he instructs the boy if he hears the voice again to respond: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Although Samuel’s obedience and quickness of response are to be admired, he mistakes the aging, ailing Eli for God’s actual voice. Remember, that although Samuel had been anointed, Scripture says he was still very young in faith.
So were Peter and Andrew in the Gospel. They were disciples of John the Baptist whom Jesus once called the greatest prophet who ever lived. John had a few disciples, people who were devoted to him as their spiritual leader. This day Jesus shows up. John realizes that he is now in the presence of One whose sandals he is not even worthy to untie. John may be a prophet, but this man is the Lamb of God, the Son of the Most High, the very Savior of the world.
But, how’d we get here from Eli and Samuel, to John, Jesus, Peter and Andrew? One of life’s challenges is recognizing and accepting your role at each stage of life. You may have heard the term: “the grace of office”. A smooth transition into or out of various roles in life is reliant on the kind of grace that Eli and John the Baptist showed in directing their disciples to turn their focus to Someone else, Someone greater. Eli and John were forerunners who knew, and fully accepted, that very role.
In her presentation on “Servant Leadership” S. Lynn McKenzie writes of this dynamic. We know (She says) “One does not begin monastic life as a prioress but begins as a member of the community. And one usually does not end monastic life as a prioress but as a member of that same community.”
This applies across the board despite what the person identified in the Rule of Benedict’s Chapter headings might lead one to believe. The directives are addressed to the “rank and file.” It’s not just the cellarer (buyer) who needs to give a gentle response even when the answer is NO. Nor is it just the deans (assistants/councilors) who are reminded to keep confidential information sacred. It’s not only the members sent on a short journey who should not broadcast every sight they’ve seen. Nor are hospitality ministers the only ones who should be prompt to answer the door or phone. Benedict is writing for all members when he cautions artisans not to be become “puffed up by their skillfulness”. It’s not just the sub-prioress who should carry out her assignments with respect. Kitchen servers aren’t the only ones that should be gracious in accepting help so they can serve without distress. And it’s not only the sick who should not make excessive demands. Nor is the prioress the only one who should practice what she preaches and keep in mind to Whom she will give an account.
Remember what Jesus asked the disciples who were trailing him: “What are you looking for?” His response was the same answer we’ve heard: “Come and you will see!” Who has helped you along the way? Who today gives you a hand to grasp, a “pointing finger” to follow, a prayerful nudge when life throws you a curve ball? Who is there to keep track when Jesus seems to disappear just around the bend in the road ahead? Who reminds you, “Come and you will see?”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB