The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt, circa 1855. Image from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Great love and trust part of divine plan

  • December 19, 2021

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Dec. 26 (Year C) 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52

Why would Hannah hand over her baby to Eli the prophet? She had no other children, and she had hoped and prayed for many years for the infant Samuel. He had barely been weaned and yet she was letting go of him forever to fulfil the vow she had made to the Lord.

He was to become a nazarite — a dedicated prophet — for all time. And she handed him over to Eli the prophet, who is not portrayed in flattering terms. He had rebuked and ridiculed Hannah when she was praying at the shrine to conceive a child. He was also not a good father, for his sons grew up to be corrupt and greedy, so much so that God removed Eli and the rest of his family from the scene. The emotional impact of this story is probably not emphasized in reflection and preaching.

How did Hannah feel about giving him up? The only explanation for Hannah’s actions is that she was aware of the role Samuel would play in the life of the nation. Her openness to God and her trust enabled her to have an awareness of the divine plan and to relinquish her son with a sense of peace.

Children are entrusted to their parents for a period of time but each one ultimately has to go their own way and fulfil God’s purpose for them. Hannah continued the tradition of Abraham, who was ordered to sacrifice his only son. Even God gave up His only son for the sake of human redemption. Only great love and abundant trust enable us to relinquish what we love most for the sake of others.

John was amazed at the great love God had shown to him and his community. They were now children of God, having been reborn from above in the Spirit. This rebirth made them different from average people — they knew God directly and personally — and this made it difficult for others to understand them.

John recognized this was only the beginning of their journey and he had no idea what they would later become. But he was certain that they would be like God and see God as He is.

Clearly their experience of God had already begun, enabled by the Spirit. Faith and a clear conscience blessed them with boldness before God and assurance of asking for anything.

What was it like to be Mary and Joseph in the Gospel story? Any parent who has lost sight of a child in a shopping centre for a length of time can relate to them. Cold fear and hoping for the best but fearing the worst keeps a strong grip on the heart.

They had been travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover festival in a large party with extended family, so Jesus’ absence was not immediately noticed. When they finally found Him among the teachers in the temple, their fear turned to anger and this can be sensed from Mary’s rebuke to Him.

Her pointed and angry question was evidence: “Why have You treated us like this?” She emphasized how much they had searched for Him and how much anxiety He had caused them. But Jesus was unperturbed and unrepentant.

Like a very precocious child, He asked them why they were searching for Him. Were they not aware that He had to be in His Father’s house?

The original Greek text adds some interesting details. A verb that connotes divine providence and necessity was used to describe His calling, and what we usually translate as “My Father’s house” means far more than a building — quite literally, it is “the things of My Father.”

He has to be immersed in the business of God. As He approached young manhood, He was becoming conscious of His identity and mission. His parents did not understand what had taken place, but as Mary treasured these things in her heart, she was probably becoming aware that she would have to let go of Jesus someday.

In the meantime, Jesus continued His human journey, growing in wisdom, grace and favour with humans and God. The call to become immersed in the “things of God” is also our call, and our spiritual progress depends on how seriously we take it.