Strive to be at one with God

  • December 18, 2009
Holy Family (Year C) Dec. 27 (1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52)

The road to motherhood was a long and painful journey for Hannah as for many of the “barren women” of the Bible. Not only did she have to deal with the disappointment at being childless but the shame and guilt as well, for childlessness was thought to be a punishment or curse from God. Not even Hannah’s prayer to God was without difficulty — she had to endure the snide and contemptuous accusations of public drunkenness from Eli the prophet. But she was a woman of intense faith and her prayers were answered.

It is intriguing that she immediately pledges her child for service to God. There was no thought of the ancient equivalent of getting into a good university or being a millionaire by 30. Serving God was in their eyes the highest calling in life possible, and one’s success or failure was measured in those terms. She does not cling to her child but is grateful for the gift that he is and is willing to return him to God.

Hannah’s son will be a great prophet — Samuel. Hannah’s story follows a literary pattern in the Old Testament — that of the “barren woman.” The pattern is repeated in the story of Sarah as well as the mother of Samson. It makes another appearance in the Gospel of Luke in the case of Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. The conception of the children in these stories always illuminates the divine intervention in each case as well as the extraordinary nature and role of the child to be born.

The author of 1 John speaks of a different type of extraordinary conception and birth: that of the children of God. According to Johannine theology, one does not come into this world as a child of God in the fullest sense of the word. It is something that one achieves by faith in the one who was sent from above — Jesus — and the reception of the spirit that is imparted on all believers in His name. The one who is reborn from above is a human being of a very different sort — the spiritual senses are cleansed and opened to such a degree that one is able to truly recognize and experience their filial relationship with God. Rather than experiencing God as an idea, concept or doctrine, those who have been reborn as a child of God know God in a direct and personal way.

Every year many children simply vanish. In some cases, there is a happy ending — the child is found safe and sound. But in far too many cases the outcome is tragic or even worse, forever unresolved. We can only imagine the fear of Joseph and Mary upon discovering that Jesus was not in the extended pilgrimage party. Many dark scenarios probably ran through their minds. But then Jesus is found in the temple debating with the scholars. Mary’s fear and anxiety probably turned to anger at this point as she demands an explanation. His rather cool answer must have been both puzzling and upsetting to Mary: why were you looking for me? Don’t you understand that I have to be in my Father’s house? The story bears all the signs of an ancient Greek biography of a philosopher — Luke’s Jesus is precocious far beyond His years as well as controlled and measured in His emotional responses. Besides portraying Jesus as someone absolutely extraordinary, the story illustrates that His mission and purpose in life is determined by God and not by human concerns. At many critical junctures in His life Jesus will have to choose this mission over friends and family and even life, and on several occasions He will forcefully remind His followers that they will be expected to do the same.

In this sense, the outcome of the search for the missing child Jesus is both happy and bittersweet for it hints at what is to come. We all arrive in this life with the handprints of the Creator on our souls. Our basic purpose in life is to strive to be at one with the divine will rather than our own. An important part of this is striving in even small and hidden ways to be a source of blessing to the world and to others.