Why does Eli put up with the evil of his sons? When the high priest sees that his sons are using the temple to serve their greed and pride and lust, when he sees that they are defiling the house of God to worship themselves, why doesn’t he do anything about it other than complain to them? Why doesn’t he drive them out of the house of God? Why doesn’t he have them put to death for their blasphemy?
It’s because Eli thinks he has to choose between being close to God and being close to his sons. Eli thinks his choice is to be faithful to God or to keep his faithless sons, and he chooses the latter, as so many parents do in those circumstances. And this is the tragic irony of Eli’s story. He doesn’t really have to make this choice. His sons have already disowned him with their sins. And if Eli wants a faithful son who will pull him closer to God instead of driving him away, he already has one. His name is Samuel. He’s the young child wearing a little priestly shirt w, the one who has been made the high priest’s adoptive son through the mercy of God. He’s this miraculously-conceived first born son, set apart from before his birth, set apart to judge his people and lead them into holiness. There, in the face of Samuel, Eli sees a shadow of the Christ and of the eternal family promised to the faithful who have been disowned by their faithless flesh and blood.
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Long before Jesus spoke these words in Mark chapter 10, He whispered them to Eli through the face of a little child named Samuel. And today, Jesus speaks them to you. So when your sons and daughters, your mothers and fathers, profane the name of Jesus, don’t whine like Eli. Make a bold confession. Love them by rebuking them and praying for them. But when they make clear that they have disowned you through their hatred of God, don’t despair. Instead, look through your tears and see the face of Jesus Christ promised in the face of Samuel. Look through your tears and see the One who has given you a family that is infinitely greater than the one this sinful world has taken away from you, a family of countless brothers and sisters called the Church. Look to your Christ. In Him, you will find eternal family and eternal peace.