Commentary on the Gospel of
After the celebrations of the miraculous birth of Our Lord, and the beginning of a new year, we begin “ordinary time” in the Church calendar. There, of course, is not much that is ordinary in these readings. We begin with an account from the first book of Samuel concerning a man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite, from the hill country of Ephraim. Most readers and listeners, at least subliminally, are thinking, “who? where? what?” by this point. I admit that most often I do not look up this information, and have always dutifully, but passively, listened to, or read, the day’s readings. Other daily events seem to take precedence. Research may not always be at the top of our list. I found that it did bring a reading to life that I have received more passively in the past.
Elkanah was a polygamous man who lived in the hill country near Shiloh. His wives were named Penninah and Hannah. Penninah had several children, but Hannah, at this time, had none. Penninah gloated about her children. She even tormented Hannah when Elkanah gave Hannah a greater portion of sacrificial food, “because he loved her.” Elkanah was puzzled by Hannah’s weeping and depression. Thinking that the problem centered only on her childlessness, he asked her, “am I not worth ten sons?”
Elkanah’s words did not address all of Hannah’s difficulties. She, no doubt, felt that she as expected by her society to produce a son in order to deserve the apparently unconditional love of her husband. Never-the-less, he loved her as she was.
Hannah’s struggle with depression may be understood if we imagine that she was treated very well by her loving husband, yet she felt unworthy of his unconditional love. We often find ourselves in this circumstance if we believe that God loves us even if we feel that we have not merited this love. We often wish, or long for, a goal or a condition of life that seems to be just out of reach, when suddenly, it is attained. Things seem to fall into place with the aid and love of Our Heavenly Father. Why do we continue to weep and feel sad when we know that we are loved and cared for? God is asking us why we need anything else when we know that we have His love.
As I reflected on this passage, I had the benefit of knowing that Hannah’s difficulties would, at least partially, be resolved; Hannah and Elkanah became the parents of the Prophet Samuel, the namesake of our first reading.
Today, the Gospel reading takes place at one of Jesus’ favorite sites; he was walking along the shore of the beautiful Sea of Galilee. Many in this area made their living as fishermen. Often, families worked together. Jesus encountered two pairs of brothers whose lives would change on this day. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Simon (Peter) and his brother, Andrew. Jesus may be encountering these men for the first time when he invites them to follow him and “become fishers of men.” They leave their families at the shore and set out with Jesus. It is hard to imagine the great strength of Jesus’ presence. The young men immediately followed Jesus’ call to spread the word of God. Can we conceive of personally making this leap of faith if we feel called by God? How will we respond?