by Father Mike Stubbs
We can choose our friends, but we get the family we are born into.
That means that our parents make major decisions for us, such as where we live as we are growing up, and which school we will attend. Those decisions are out of our control.
In Sunday’s first reading — 1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28 — Hannah makes a decision for her infant son Samuel that will determine the course of his life. She dedicates him to God as a nazarite.
Among the ancient Hebrews, a man or woman would sometimes make a vow to God to abstain from alcohol, to avoid contact with the dead and to refrain from cutting their hair. The person who made such a vow was called a nazarite (Nm 6).
The vow could be either temporary or lifelong, as in the case of Samuel. Another notable biblical figure who made such a vow is Samson. Samson’s origins resemble that of Samuel.
As the angel informs Samson’s mother: “Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son. Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean. As for the son you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb” (Jgs 13: 3-5).
Hannah had been praying for a child frequently in the temple. She had not been able to conceive. This was a major disappointment of her life.
Consequently, she promises that, if God gives her a son, she will dedicate him to God:
“I will give him to the Lordfor as long as he lives; neither wine nor liquor shall he drink, and no razor shall ever touch his head” (1 Sm 2:11b).
In keeping with her vow, Hannah brings Samuel to the same temple where she had prayed for his conception, to remain there in God’s service.
On one hand, Hannah’s pledge to God reflects her gratitude to God for the gift of her son. She recognizes that, without God, it would not have happened.
But it is more than that. Samuel belongs, not only to Hannah’s family, but also to God’s family.
That is true for all of us. We belong not only to our nuclear family, but also to the broader human family, God’s family.
That is not a matter of our choosing, but of God’s gift.