The story of God calling Samuel has a troubling side and an encouraging side. On one hand, it’s a dark time for God’s people. There are a number of problems, one of the biggest being bad priests. That is heartbreakingly relevant; there was another disgrace this week. It hurts.
No explanation or theology is going to make it not hurt. But if we’re students of the Bible, we’ll learn from Samuel as from so many others that God has ways of working around sin. Sometimes the medicine is hard, though. In Samuel’s time there is devastation and wrath. Eli and his sons will be dead in the next few verses. Israel’s enemies will swarm over her and crush her. Worst of all, the Ark of the Covenant will be lost, carried away by the Philistines. Remember what the Ark was to them: it was God’s dwelling in their midst. It was where they looked for holiness and assurance. With that stripped away, they seemed forsaken and abandoned — not just sinful, but having lost even the hope and principle of renewal.
It’s in this dark context that Samuel hears a voice. He misunderstands at first. No one is hearing God’s voice very often those days, the story says, so it’s no surprise God doesn’t get through to Samuel right away. But God keeps at it. He doesn’t give up on Sam and eventually, with the help of Eli, the boy understands. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Like Israel before her, the Church’s story is always populated by traitors and by Saints, heroes and hypocrites. Like Israel bereft of the Ark of the Covenant, when things are particularly bad throughout the history of the Church we might easily think God’s presence was gone elsewhere, that the Church had lost even the hope and principle of renewal.
Those are the times to listen in the quiet of the night. Listen carefully, hopefully. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” This is the absolutely indispensable life of prayer that every Christian, every one of us, must have. You might not be great at it right away. Prayer is something we grow in slowly, gradually, over the years and decades. Be encouraged by Samuel. God won’t give up on you just because you don’t understand and get everything right the first time around.
But for renewal to begin, there needs to be a servant and they need to be listening. That’s up to us. That much is within reach for any of us, any time.
Fast forward to the Gospel and God is still calling people. This time the role of Eli is reprised by John the Baptist, who directs Andrew and his friend to the encounter with God. Now they are face to face with Jesus, God in flesh, and once again it is God who begins this conversation.
Do you remember how? What is the first thing Jesus says to Andrew and his friend? What is the first thing Jesus says to you? It’s a question.
“What do you want?”
It’s a big question, and I imagine Andrew being caught at least a little off guard. When God asks you what you want, you have to dig for the deepest possible answer. The one that defines you. The one that explains you. What do you want?
Do you spend hours beyond number staring at screens, watching or surfing to no particular benefit other than escaping boredom, preventing yourself from having to face a moment of thought? What do you want? What do you set your heart on? Money? Security? Stability? Adventure? Travel? Romance? What do you want?
Have you followed your desires to a place where they rule you, where you can’t not drink, can’t avoid pornography, can’t stop your temper, or whatever it is for you? How did you get there? You were after something. You wanted something. What did you want?
Are you just vaguely unsatisfied, restless, aimless, living day to day without any real drive or fire in your belly? Do you feel like life has turned out just sort of disappointing and grey? What’s missing? What is it you wish was there? What do you want?
This is where it starts for you and Jesus, and you need to find your answer. I can’t give it to you. Your husband, wife, or parents can’t, your friends can’t give it to you. God himself will not give it to you, at least not forcefully. He awaits your answer.
Andrew is a disciple and a Saint because of his answer. He looked Jesus in the eye and said “Rabbi, where do you live?” He’s a Saint because what he wants, more than anything, is God, the God he has met in Jesus Christ. That’s what sainthood is.
He doesn’t just want to know about God. He doesn’t just want to know what the rules are for getting to Heaven. He doesn’t ask “who are you?” or “what does it all mean?” or “what should I do?”…
...but “Where do you live?” How can I have a relationship with you? Where can I find you so as to live my life in your presence? That’s what I want. That’s what I’m looking for. Whatever idiotic things I may have done in the past, you are what I wanted all along. And everything that brought me real happiness, it was because you were hidden within it.
And the conversation concludes with the response of Jesus to the soul that truly wants Him… “Come and see.”
Jesus will never refuse a soul that wants him. He will never turn you away, if you really want him. I don’t care what your past is. If you arrive at a place in your life where Jesus is what you want, where the most burning question in your heart is “Rabbi, where do you live?”… then this is your answer. “Come and see.” You know Jesus wants you. The only question is whether you want Him. Enough that you don’t care what it costs.
Andrew wanted Jesus, so Andrew got him. It really is that simple. It always is. He was invited to share in Christ’s life. “Come and see.” Jesus calls no one to a distant relationship, a dabbling, a fence-sitting casual sort-of-discipleship. No, the invitation is to come along. Take it or leave it. Come and see.
Will there be a servant in your house tonight? A servant who is listening? And what will your deepest, truest answer be, if Jesus looks you in the eye and asks you what it is that you really want?