We are in many ways a nation of “doers.” We spend a lot of time measuring productivity, looking for results, documenting procedures, making things happen. I think that many of us, myself included, if we were asked, just want to get things done. I think of the old Nike commercial: “just do it.” Call it the American work ethic or whatever you’d like, but our motto very often is, “don’t just stand there – do something!”
Today’s Liturgy of the Word flies in the face of all that kind of thinking. And because of that, some of us, myself included, are going to squirm just a little bit today. Because today’s Scriptures don’t call us to do anything. Instead, they call us to listen, to wait, and to be. And none of that is going to come easy for us anxious doers.
Samuel received the call to listen. We’re told he didn’t really know the Lord just yet; he would have been too young. His mother, childless, prayed that she would be able to give birth, and promised to dedicate that child to the Lord if she did. She received what she asked for and when Samuel was weaned, gave him over to the Temple to be in the Lord’s service, under the care and mentorship of Eli, an aged prophet. And so it is while Samuel is living in the Temple that he hears, with the help of Eli, the call of God for the first time. When they both finally figure out what’s going on, Samuel gives the reply that Eli had instructed him to make: “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!”
And that whole “your servant is listening” part is key. Because it’s not like the Lord doesn’t speak to us ever. Instead, I believe he’s speaking all the time. It’s just that most of the time, we’re not listening. It’s kind of like having a radio but not turning it on. Just because it’s not on doesn’t mean that radio stations aren’t broadcasting. It’s just that we’re not listening. The same is true for God. Just because we haven’t tuned in doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling, directing, consoling, answering, or loving. It’s just that we can’t notice it because we haven’t taken the time to stop talking ourselves and listen.
Sometimes in our faith life, to be quite blunt, we need to shut up and listen. We ourselves talk a whole lot. And all that talking is an obstacle to real prayer. Whether we’re talking to the person sitting next to us, or talking on a cell phone (at the same time as we’re eating breakfast, reading the newspaper and driving to work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen it!), whether we’re emailing, or instant messaging, or texting – we’re talking all the time. And all that talking can really drown out the still, small voice of God that is speaking to us and trying to lead us in the everlasting way. We have to be honest today and admit that most of us really need to stop all that talking and say with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
It’s the Psalmist today who urges us to wait. Psalm 40 is a very beautiful prayer, so I hope you’ll all go home today and mark it in your Bibles and read it all during the week. There is so much of it that can become our own personal prayer in the days ahead. The first verse of today’s selection from Psalm 40 says, “I have waited, waited for the Lord.” That seems harmless enough, but let me read it another way: “I have waited … waited for the Lord.” That’s the reading I think the Psalmist is getting at; there isn’t any other reason in Hebrew that the word would have been repeated. And I think we can all identify with that sentiment at one time or another in our lives.
How often have we prayed for someone or something, and prayed, and prayed and prayed? How often have we seemed to wait and wait and still not get a response? This, in large part, is cultural for us too. We are a people who expect all life’s problems to be sorted out and fixed in a half hour or hour during prime time, minus, of course, the many commercials. But that’s not how God works. God’s time is not our time, and so often that’s really frustrating.
But our waiting has to be a trusting wait. It has to be a wait imbued with the real hope that God will stoop toward us and hear our cry, as he did for the Psalmist. This might mean realigning our hopes and dreams with what God wants for us. It might mean that God is calling us to go in a new direction. It might mean waiting until we are ready to hear and accept the way God is answering that prayer of ours. It might mean waiting until the time is right. As the Psalmist goes on to say, God doesn’t necessarily want our sacrifices or sin-offerings. Instead he is looking for us to say “Here I am, Lord, here I am, I come to do your will.” God is willing to wait for us to be able to say that. Are we willing to wait too?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to be. Not to do anything, just be. To live, to follow, to be with him. When John the Baptist’s disciples begin to seek out Jesus, he says to them, “What are you looking for?” It’s a question, I think, that takes them a little off-guard. They don’t have a ready answer – they may have had hopes and dreams of what the Messiah might be like, but here he is in the flesh. What is it that they’re looking for? They respond with a question too: “where are you staying?” For them, it’s enough to get near Jesus, to see what he’s up to. And so Jesus extends the invitation: “Come and you will see.”
He doesn’t give them the itinerary. He doesn’t list his goals and objectives. He doesn’t offer a resume or prospectus or promise he will do anything for them. He just asks them to be: “Come and you will see.” Because it’s in the living that the plan will unfold. We have to be with Jesus to see the Gospel come to fruition, to take root and spread. If all we’re concerned with is checking things off our to-do list, we will miss Jesus entirely, this Jesus who broke all the rules of divinity to come and be with us.
Now, please understand, I’m not going to tell you that getting things done isn’t worthwhile and necessary. I get that. Sometimes, I get that a little too much. But spiritual growth doesn’t happen very well if that’s all we’re concerned about. And so, as much as it makes a lot of us, myself included, squirm, the spiritual life is about listening, about waiting, and about being. We have to quiet down, slow down, and just be if we want God’s Spirit to take us to places we never thought we could go.
So maybe this week is a time to make a renewed effort to do that – as incongruous as that may sound. It will be a real effort for us to quiet down and slow down and just experience life. But it will be worth it. Maybe that will give some of us the opportunity to spend time just being in front of the Tabernacle this week. Or maybe in listening to God’s word in Scripture, or even just being more present to what God is doing in our lives. The rewards are all there in today’s Liturgy of the Word, too: Samuel’s words – every one of them – were effective; the Psalmist had God stoop toward him and hear his cry; the apostles witnessed the greatest act of love in history.
And we can too. All we have to do is to listen, wait, and be.