10 Jan. Tuesday of Week One
1 Samuel 1:9ff. Eli promises an answer to Hannah’s prayer; and she gives birth to a son.
Mark 1:21ff. Jesus teaches with authority and drives out unclean spirits. People are spellbound.
A new Power in the Land
As the people were spellbound about Jesus, we too are invited to be impressed by his “completely new teaching” and his unique “spirit of authority.” But was it really all that new? Others before Him had wrestled with devils and evil spirits. We recall Moses’ rivalry with the magicians in Egypt and his commanding the Red Sea to part (Exod 7:22; 8:3). Neither was Jesus the first prophet to sway the Israelites with his grasp of moral issues and with compassion for human ills and injustices. We can recall the prophet Isaiah’s appeal, “Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves clean.. cease doing evil; learn to do good” (Isa 1:15-16).
If the themes in today’s texts are not entirely new they still reach into the deep wellsprings of life and seem to happen for the first time when they take place for each of us. A person’s birth is too personal not to seem a new creation each time. Hannah’s conception of a child broke a long spell of barren married life and inaugurated a particularly creative moment for her and actually for all the people of Israel. As such it symbolizes moments in everyone’s existence. We are advised, first of all, that crucial moments such as this do not happen all at once, without preparation. We must wait, not passively but hopefully, at times anxiously, and even at dark moments, like Hannah, with “bitterness,” but also with “prayer, vows and promises.”
Hannah shows how great decisions cannot and must not be reached in any facile way. As difficult as it may be, it was under stress and prolonged expectation, under a barrage of doubt from others, that she gives her patient response: “It’s not that, my Lord,” she said to the high priest who accused her of being drunk. “I am an unhappy woman. I have had neither wine nor liquor; I am only pouring out my troubles to the Lord.. My prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.” What else could Eli reply to such anguish and sincerity but “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
This delighted mother decides to consecrate her new child as a Nazirite. John would be dedicated to the Lord in a special way and manifest that consecration by never drinking wine and strong drink, never shaving the beard nor cutting the hair on his head. This institution is described in Num 6:1-21, immediately before the famous “Priestly Blessing.” The norms of Nazirite existence come from Israel’s early life in the desert and particularly from the need of military readiness at that time. Soldiers did not cut their hair nor shave; neither could they compromise their sensitivity to danger or trouble by strong drink. The Nazirite, therefore, reminded Israel of her origins as a people, early days that were marked with gigantic struggles and long perseverance in the desert.
As the Old Testament often deals with people’s heroic lives – the long, persevering wait of Hannah for a child; the exacting demands of the Nazirite; Israel’s creation through flight from slavery, trek through the desert and long settlement in the land – so these struggles are compressed into single moments as Jesus drives out devils and speaks with authority. Today’s texts summon us to respect the deep, creative grace at the root of our existence; to wait actively, patiently, prayerfully; to pour out our soul to God; to interact with community and its leadership in the pursuit of our inmost goals, as in the case of Hannah and Eli; to be ready for the probing struggles with Satan through moments of “nazirite” simplicity; to realize that Jesus has experienced each of our trials and temptations so that in Jesus we arrive at our true glory and honour as children of God.
1 Samuel 1:9-20
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favour in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.