STILL SPEAKING – Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B; Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

January 17, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10 (8a, 9a)
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42

Much as I love the ease of communication that my smartphone makes possible, I find it annoying when it rings at inconvenient times or when the number is either unknown to me or blocked from view. My husband and I have different approaches to dealing with these calls. I usually refuse to answer unless I recognize the number, while he wants to know who is calling and why, allowing that it could be legitimate and even important.

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the boy Samuel, even though lacking a smartphone at his bedside, is roused from sleep by an unexpected call. Unlike me, the young boy does not ignore it, but immediately runs to the priest Eli, thinking that the old man was summoning him. As the unknown caller persists, the wise Eli realizes that Samuel is hearing the voice of God and helps him to respond appropriately: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10).

Why doesn’t Samuel himself recognize that it’s the Holy One calling to him? Today’s text actually addresses that question, explaining that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (3:7). God clearly knew Samuel and had chosen him, but the boy needed help from another person to identify the caller.

This passage strikes me as a very timely one for our age that regards an inbreaking of the supernatural with suspicion. Like us, the people of Samuel’s time were not expecting any kind of extraordinary revelation. We are told right at the beginning of today’s story that “[t]he word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread” (3:1b).

And yet, we learn that God knew Samuel and spoke to him. In fact, when we read a little further, we learn that God was planning to bring about change that would make other people sit up and take notice: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (3:11). People would know the presence of the Holy One and hear God speaking—indeed, their ears would “tingle”—if they were paying attention to the events occurring around them.

The story of Samuel’s call might prompt us to consider how well we are attuned to recognizing and hearing the voice of God. Are we attentive to the events around us in which God may be speaking and calling to us? Perhaps the Holy One is inviting us to act for change as we become aware of our privilege or as we are confronted by the needs of others. Perhaps God is calling to us to take a new direction in our lives, to be open to a new relationship, or to let go of a broken one.

Sometimes we need the help of another to discern the call, as Samuel did. At other times the call may actually be coming to us through another, as it did in the Gospel of John for Peter through his brother Andrew or for Nathanael through Philip.

Just as we might prefer to ignore unwanted phone calls, we may at times be unaware of, fail to recognize, or even overlook the call of God. Yet we can be sure of this: God knows us in our inmost being—and is still speaking. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

A Hymn for Today: “O God, You Search Me”

The Revised Common Lectionary appoints for today Psalm 139, a hymn of trust that expresses the wonder of being known by God from all time and in every aspect of our lives—a fitting response for communities that hear stories of calling in today’s Scripture readings. English hymnwriter and composer Bernadette Farrell has created a poignant paraphrase of this psalm and composed an equally compelling tune to which it is sung. Listen here for a performance by the Notre Dame Folk Choir.

O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down you are before me:
Ever the maker and keeper of my days.

You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
And with love everlasting you besiege me:
In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are.

Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
You have known its meaning through and through.
You are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future, too.

Although your Spirit is upon me,
Still I search for shelter from your light.
There is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
Even the darkness is radiant in your sight.

For you created me and shaped me,
Gave me life within my mother’s womb.
For the wonder of who I am, I praise you:
Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.

Text: Psalm 139, Bernadette Farrell, b. 1957. © 1992, OCP Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Pixabay, 2020

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.