The key line in today’s three readings is the editorial comment in our I Samuel pericope, “At that time Samuel was not familiar with Yahweh... “His lack of familiarity causes the young boy to confuse Yahweh’s voice with Eli’s, resulting in a biblical Abbot and Costello routine. Since almost everyone agrees the main role of organized religion is to help us experience God in our daily lives, how does one acquire such familiarity?
To his credit, Eli, the representative of organized religion, instructs Samuel on the proper way to go about it. “If you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening.”
Our sacred authors presume God speaks to everyone. God’s voice and call are embedded in our daily lives. But because many of us belong to religious institutions with strong hierarchical and dogmatic structures, it’s difficult even to believe God could be personally calling us to carry out God’s plans. If someone in “the system” doesn’t tell us what to do, we’re lost.
On one level, our biblical writings were saved and passed down to us by our ancestors in the faith precisely because they taught their readers how to listen.
John, for instance, takes for granted that Jesus calls all of us to follow him in unique ways. Often those calls come when we’re already doing what we’re convinced God wants us to do. Notice in today’s gospel passage that the first two people to follow Jesus are already followers of John the Baptizer; certainly nothing wrong with being disciples of a divinely sent prophet. Yet, as John the Evangelist tells us, they’re willing to go beyond John to discover where Jesus is “staying.” In other words, they want to be where Jesus is, to step into his frame of mind, his value system.
Such steps always involve radical changes in our own personalities. That’s why John’s Jesus “. . . looked at (Simon) and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas’ - which is translated Rock” Simon’s name change is an outward sign of personality change. He’s now someone who listens; a rock for others who also listen.
Paul’s listening leads to one of Christianity’s most basic beliefs: all Jesus’ followers form the Body of Christ. In this situation, he writes to people, the Corinthians, who must constantly deal with the consequences of living in a city which boasts of having a major temple to the fertility goddess Aphrodite - an institution with 1,000 sacred prostitutes on its payroll. That, and other forms of prostitution, is behind today’s passage.
The Apostle approaches this fornication problem from a unique perspective. Such sexual actions are sinful not just because they’re “dirty,” but because the faithful who engage in them have forgotten they’re Christ’s body. That body, he writes,”.... is not for immorality . . . Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own.” He especially zeroes in on that belief in the second half of verse 16, which, for some unknown reason, has been left out of our liturgical selection. “Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not!” I can’t figure out why Paul’s argument against such fornication was never brought up when I studied sexual morality in the seminary.
If course, once we buy into Paul’s conviction that the whole church makes up Christ’s body, then our vocation to listen takes on another dimension. How can we claim we’re listening to God’s voice if we’re ignoring what the majority of the church is saying about certain issues? For the laity to listen only to the hierarchy, or for the hierarchy not to listen to the laity is certainly not listening in the biblical sense.