There are two basic attitudes towards life. One way to live life is simply to react to situations all the time.
This was precisely the case of Samuel initially. Whenever he heard his name being called, he answered somewhat mechnically, “Here I am,” and then ran to Eli. Samuel’s response was like a pre-conditioning. You push a button and you get the same response all the time. This, too, was also the case of the disciples of Jesus. They must have been thrilled by the popularity of Jesus and their own popularity since they were associates of Jesus. We are told that the whole town was crowding round Jesus, hoping that He would cure them in some ways. Hence, when Jesus was not found in the morning, the disciples came to look for Jesus, saying, “Everybody is looking for you”, implying therefore that Jesus should be around to attend to their problems. By so doing, they too were simply being reactive.
In our own ways too, most of us are reactive in life. We are to a great extent conditioned beings. We are always reacting to situations. We do not really have control over our lives and our happiness. Very often, our peace is determined by others because we are so easily affected by what they do and what they say. If they say nice things about us, we feel happy; but if they say negative things about us, we feel hurt and sometimes even revengeful. In such a situation, one can hardly be happy in this world since one’s mood is dependent on one’s popularity.
Not only in our relationships with others, but even in our professional life, many of us do not have the foresight to plan ahead. Some of us spend our whole life solving problems and reacting to situations. When we simply react to our problems, we can never go very far in life since we utlilise our whole time and energy resolving issues that arise from poor judgement and wrong decisions made in the past. This is very true, especially for those who hold leadership positions. For such leaders, there can be no progress since they spend all their time tackling new and old problems that are the consequence of past short-sightedness and bad policies.
We tend to follow the opinions of the crowd. This was the reason why the Lord did not allow the devil to reveal His identity. “He also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.” The danger for many people is that they do not take ownership of what they do or believe. They just follow the crowd. Just because their friends enrolled in a certain course or institution, they follow; not because they are interested or passionate about it. This is true for the faith. Many are joining a religion not out of personal conviction but because their friends or loved ones are there. This explains why Jesus did not allow the devil to make the people lazy and complacent in believing in Him through personal discovery.
For this reason, the scripture readings today challenge us to be more proactive and to not simply react or follow blindly. This was what Eli realized when Samuel kept returning to him after hearing his name being called. So he told Samuel to preempt the situation by responding, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” It was true also in the case of Jesus. Although Jesus was responding to all the cries for help, He was not reactive at all. His decision to reach out to the sick and suffering was a deliberate choice. He was not motivated by what others thought or said of Him. His actions were not determined by others. That was why when His disciples told Him that everyone was looking for Him, He He did not choose to remain there and bask in His popularity. Instead, His response was, “Let us go elsewhere … so that I can preach there too.” Yes, Jesus was proactive rather than reactive. He was very clear of His mission. He had been sent to preach the good news to all, even in places where He might not be too welcome. Such foresighted vision prevented Jesus from settling down comfortably in any place that gave Him a comfortable life. Yes, Jesus knew that if He did that, He would not be able to fulfill the plan of the Father.
We too must imitate Jesus. We must be proactive in life. We must not simply be contented with solving our daily personal, family, office and community problems. That is not to say that we should not attend to immediate issues. But our vision cannot be too narrow-minded. Our view of life must be more global and far-sighted. So whilst attending to the immediate problems, we need to look ahead. It is when we plan ahead that the nitty gritty issues of the day get resolved by themselves. We need to look ahead into the future whilst keeping an eye on the present. We must be clear of our ultimate goal so that we will not be so preoccupied with fighting the small battles that we lose the war. Only those who have long term vision can choose the battles to fight, instead of dealing with insignificant and secondary issues. Jesus was clear of His mission. Staying back to help the people was not a bad idea but it would result in Him neglecting His larger mission to the whole of humanity.
But how can we have such a vision of life? The key lies in listening in our prayer. Samuel became a great prophet, the scripture tells us, because he listened. Indeed, the Lord was with Him only because he made listening his constant habit in life. So attentive was Samuel to the Lord’s words that, as scripture says, he “let no word of his fall to the ground.” What is said of Samuel was also applicable to Jesus. While the rest of the people were sleeping, including His disciples, and inspite of a tiring day, we are told that long before dawn, Jesus got up and left the house and “went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”
Yes, this is certainly the great secret of Samuel, the prophet of the Lord and Jesus Himself. For it is only in deep silence and in prayer that we come to discern our true motives for doing the things we do. Only in attentive listening to the Lord, can we come to understand what He really wants us to do. For it is when our minds are uncluttered and freed from the malaise of too much activity, sensations and drama, that we become alert to the voice of God and begin to see the truth of all that we do. If not we might be motivated not by God’s love but by our own insecurity and vested interests. As leaders, our decisions are never motivated by our needs but by the greater good of the people we lead. For their sake, and for the betterment of our people, we must be ready to sacrifice ourselves for them. Yes, let us pray that before we act in the name of Jesus, we are clear of our vocation, God’s plan and what must be done. We need to listen to the Lord everyday, especially through the Word of God and think through what is God’s will for us so that so we can make wise decisions. Let us pray that we will see beyond our human and mundane needs, and look to God’s marvellous plan instead.