1Sm 1:9-20; 1Sm 2:1,4-8; Mk 1:21-28
"He humbles, he also exalts!"
Seldom does this happen in our liturgy, but when the responsorial psalm is not a psalm at all it does not mean that it is not full of praise. Today the First Book of Samuel is the source of both the first reading and the response to the first reading. In the response we hear the voice of Hannah our model of prayer. One who prays does so from a heart that is exulting in the Lord, our savior. In his mighty power to save us the Lord has enabled us to swallow up our enemies and rejoice in our victory. The weapons of the mighty are useless and those who have no weapons find new strength. Those with boundless resources have no food, and those hungry have an abundance to eat. The powerless one is the childless one, and from her womb new life abounds. It is the LORD alone, who can judge between those who will live and those who will die. The LORD alone, favors the poor while ignoring the rich; The LORD alone, humbles even as he exalts. No longer are the needy ignored; the Lord raises them from oblivion. From a pile of defecation rises the humble of the earth. The Lord seats those who have no glorious throne upon his own throne in Christ and at the right hand of power. These words of praise abound in Hannah's prayer even as she awaits with confidence the coming of a son into her seemingly dead womb. Indeed the LORD dispelled Hannah's downcast spirit so that next time she had relations with Elkanah, she could be relaxed and opened, and the LORD remembered her. Indeed the Lord Jesus spoke with the authority of someone who knows the LORD and lives in the power of the LORD. We, too, have that kind of power that overflows from a heart that shares intimately with the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Why could her voice not be heard? Perhaps Hannah was too distraught to do anymore than whisper. Perhaps Hannah felt embarrassed that her words were less than theologically accurate or liturgically kosher. Perhaps she could not be heard because it was a man's place to pray out-loud and a woman was not to be heard in public prayer. Even though Eli could see her mouth moving he could not hear her petition. He quickly misjudged her, and accused her of being too drunk to even try to pray. Hannah spoke with an inner authority to the Priest Eli, in her tone or in her words the old priest could a heart full of deep sorrow and misery. This is the deepest source of prayer, a heart full of sadness. When the priest listened to Hannah's explanation about her behavior in the house of the LORD, he could hear in her voice of authority, the truth that she spoke. This inspired him to send her away with a blessing, "God in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." In response to her heart felt and heart formed prayer the LORD gave Hannah a son whom she named Samuel because she had asked the Lord for him.
When the Lord Jesus came to Capernaum with his disciples, he spoke in their assembly with authority, not like the scribes. Evidently the scribes claimed their authority from the sources they quoted. They would not make a command or a claim without reference to some other important and well-respected teacher or prophet. Authority was external, it was in the words they spoke or in the sources of their argument, not in the person speaking. The Lord Jesus, like Hannah in the first reading, spoke from the depths of his heart. The Lord Jesus spoke from the depths of a heart filled with the compassion of the Father and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Such a word of power was unfamiliar to the crowds as were the words Hannah unfamiliar to Eli, the priest. Neither the officials of the synagogue nor the priest at the shrine were familiar with the voice of the LORD, the Word of God. In humorous gospel irony however, the man with an unclean spirit could hear the Lord Jesus speaking and knew who he was. The Lord Jesus would not take advantage of any demon witness. He wanted people to witness out of love rather than demons out of fear. So the Lord Jesus cast out the demon and silenced his truthful but unworthy testimony. So too, the priest Eli and his sons were silenced and cast out of the house of the LORD upon the arrival of Samuel, a man of authority, who listened to the LORD and did his will. Either we speak with the authority of one who knows the Lord Jesus and His Father in the Holy Spirit or we will be silenced and cast out. This is the only way The Lord wants his fame to spread throughout the whole world.