1 Samuel 4:1-11
Our readings today take us from a battlefield where Eli, a priest of the Lord, loses his two sons with the Ark of the Covenant being captured by the Philistines to a serene setting of healing and compassionate love as Jesus heals a man afflicted with leprosy.
What connection can there be between these two very diverse places? And what message can each event teach us today?
We all know that Israel was dearly loved by the Lord; yet, the Philistines soundly and overwhelmingly defeat them in battle. The Ark of the Covenant is taken from the Israelites through the death of Eli’s two sons and now resides in the hands of the enemy Philistines. As one narrator puts it, "the glory has departed from Israel!" and it will not return until the Ark is taken to Jerusalem. This is a tremendous transition in Israel’s history and Israel is now to enter into the age of the prophets, the first of whom is Samuel. It is Samuel who will introduce the reign of the great Kings, Saul and David. Through all of this, Israel is called to trust and to be faithful to the Lord. Out of a battlefield of defeat and apparent despair comes a new moment in the life of God’s people if only they will place their trust in Him. Certainly all of us know those "battlefield" moments when we feel loss, confusion, even despair. It is at such times that we are called to draw closer to the Lord who alone is our hope and our salvation. We are called to move beyond apparent defeat and to know through loving trust the peace that comes only from the Lord.
But why should we believe this is possible and how can we so confidently put our trust in the Lord? It is here that we look carefully at the second place that draws our attention in today’s readings, the place where we see the Lord so lovingly heal the man whose life was so devastatingly torn asunder by leprosy. When Jesus cured this man not only did he heal him of a terrible, terrible disease but, in the very same instant of healing, Jesus makes it possible for him to return to home, family, and loved ones. No longer is he an outcast but now is part of all that he holds dear in his heart. How could he remain silent? As the scriptures tell us, "The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter." So great was his joy that it was impossible to remain silent even if it was Jesus himself who requested it!
The Lord in whom we place our trust at times of darkness is the very same Lord who is present to us in those battlefield moments of our lives. It is Jesus, the Lord, who is with us as he was with the Leper in today’s Gospel. It is Jesus who reaches out in caring, compassionate love. It is Jesus who leads us beyond moments of darkness and discouragement to the experience of new life, hope, and healing.
Fr. Pat Brennan, CP is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.