We people of God have a certain responsibility. And having been given that responsibility, and the Spirit with which to carry it out, we had better be ready to fulfill our duties, because the consequences are just too great. St. Anthony the Abbot – this is not the St. Anthony who is the finder of lost objects – was a man who knew well the urgency of fulfilling his responsibilities to the Lord. He gave everything and pursued a solitary life of contemplation, and later developed a rule of life for monasteries. He lived a life of voluntary poverty and complete devotion to God.
But then there’s poor Eli, the subject of today’s first reading, and really yesterdays. Because in the first reading yesterday, we heard all about the call of Samuel, and of Eli teaching young Samuel to respond to the voice of the Lord by saying “Here I am.” But in the verses that got left out, we have the reason for the disaster that happens in today’s first reading. God has found Eli and his sons guilty of abdicating their responsibility. The people of Israel have become depraved, have worshipped idols, and Eli and his sons have done nothing to turn their hearts. That was their only responsibility, and they failed to accomplish it. So what happens? Not only does Israel fall to the idolatrous Philistines, but the Ark of the Covenant, the great symbol of their commitment to God is taken from them. That’s almost okay though, because the Israelites had long since abandoned the covenant! And then, in the part of the reading we don’t have today, Eli on hearing the news falls over and breaks his neck. His daughter-in-law practically dies in childbirth and names her son Ichabod, a name which means “the glory is gone from Israel.”
We people of God must take absolute care to fulfill our responsibilities because the cost is just too great. We must proclaim the message far and wide as did the overjoyed leper in today’s Gospel. We must be people of forgiveness and mercy. We must reach out to the poor, needy and oppressed. We must preach the Gospel through every word and action. Because the cost of not doing so is just too great.