After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a Nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favour in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
As the people crowded around Jesus, we too are invited to respond to his "new teaching" and his unique "spirit of authority." He brought new life to those who were sitting in darkness, in need of a vision.
In the first reading, Hannah behaves with dignity in spite of her deep sense of loss. Under stress and under a barrage of doubt from others, she gives her patient response to the high priest who suspected her of being drunk. "I am an unhappy woman. I have had drunk neither wine nor liquor; I am only pouring out my troubles to the Lord." What else could Eli reply to such patent anguish and sincerity but "May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
Delighted to be a mother at last, Hannah decides to consecrate her new child as a Nazirite. John would be dedicated to the Lord in a special way and manifest that consecration by never drinking wine and strong drink, never shaving the beard nor cutting the hair on his head.
The Old Testament often describes the heroism of ordinary people — the long, persevering wait of Hannah for a child; the exacting demands of the Nazirite; Israel's flight from Egypt and trek through the desert towards the promised land. Similar struggles within the people of his times are compressed in the stories about Jesus driving out devils and speaking with authority. Today's texts summon us to respond to the deep, creative grace at the root of our existence; to wait patiently and prayerfully; to pour out our soul to God; to be ready for personal struggles with evil through moments of "nazirite" simplicity; to realize that Jesus has experienced all our trials in his own person so that in him we arrive at our true glory and honour as children of God.
There are two distinct aspects of Jesus in today's gospel. The first is his ministry of healing. Jesus heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law in the house of Simon and Andrew by taking her by the hand and lifting her up, and then goes on to heal many sick people who were brought to the door of the house. These healings by Jesus were in public and greatly appreciated by everyone; the whole town came crowding around the door, according to Mark. The second aspect of Jesus is much more private. In the morning, long before dawn, he goes out by himself to a lonely place to pray.
Whereas his healing the sick was appreciated by the people, his second activity (going off by himself to pray) is not similarly appreciated. Even those closest to him didn't think much of it. Peter, the leading disciple, rebukes him, "Everybody is looking for you," as much as to say, "Why are you wasting time out here on your own." Jesus himself knew that the source of his life-giving work was his relationship with God, which needed times for prayer. The time given to prayer was as important to him as his work of healing. Prayer is as vital for us as it was for Jesus. We need to keep closely related to the Lord if we are to live as he desires us to live and if we are to share in some way in the Lord's work. In prayer we acknowledge and give expression to our dependence on the Lord; we open ourselves to the Lord's life-giving presence so as to be channels of that presence to others.