Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
January 17, 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
I Samuel 3:3b-10;10 | Psalm 40:2:3:7-10
I Corinthians 6:13c-15a;17-20 | John 1:25-42
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Everyone has their own calling in life. Some people know their calling from childhood and doggedly pursue it throughout their life. Others take a while to figure out what their calling is. Still others know their calling from day one but are distracted into other pursuits until they finally realize what their true calling is.
I am in that last category. My maternal grandmother was a proud Polish woman whose faith in Jesus heavily influenced who she was. She was the first person to tell me, when I was about eight years of age, that when I grew up, I would be a Priest.
Fifty-five years later, at the end of the service when I was ordained a Priest on December Twelfth Twenty-Fifteen, at sixty-three years of age, I was asked if I wanted to say something. My response was that I finally would be doing what I was meant to be. A priest of the church is who I always was and now I am. But as my grandmother Rosalie said, I would become a priest when I grew up. Growing up took me fifty-five years.
In today’s First Reading, Samuel is awakened several times by the Lord’s call and did not immediately realize that the Lord was indeed calling him. He thought Eli, the temple priest who had adopted him, was calling him. Despite being a priest, Eli was not as familiar with God as he thought he was. So after Samuel had come to Eli twice thinking he was calling Samuel, Eli came to realize that it was God who was calling Samuel, so he told Samuel that the next time Samuel heard someone calling him in his sleep, Samuel was to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
This story in today’s reading about Eli and Samuel illustrates why the Talmud considers Eli to be a prophet. God speaks to prophets who in turn speak to humanity. Eli communicated to Samuel that God had called Samuel to do great things just as grandmother Rosalie did as to me. Indeed, Samuel would go on to play a key role in the history of the Jewish people. He was one of the last Judges of Israel (you can read about the historical period of the Judges in the Old Testament book by the same name), a military leader, and a prophet. The latter was his true calling.
Many people confuse one’s calling with one’s vocation, that is, your job, role, or occupation. Your calling is not always your vocation. In my own life, I worked in a number of vocations. Before I was ordained, I was an attorney for about twenty years, before that a clerk for two years, and before that an insurance adjuster and investigator for nineteen years. Along the way, I was a baseball umpire and news reporter as well. But none of those things were who I really was. I really was a priest, all along.
Samuel was a prophet, all along. But as Jesus tells us, prophets are never popular, particularly in their own home towns. Samuel was no exception. His opinions were not always what his audience wanted to hear. This last role is most significant for Samuel. It was, indeed, his calling. Subsequent events proved that Samuel was, indeed called to be a prophet.
Here’s the context. When the Israelites were in a state of turmoil dealing with internal, intra-tribal issues as well as military attacks by enemies, people began to feel that the then-prevailing governmental structure, that of the Judges, needed to be changed because It was ineffective. A Judge in the biblical sense during the period of the Judges was not the same as the women and men in black robes whom we call judges today whose function is to hear and decide disputes. Rather, a judge was a ruler with limited authority over both civil and military matters. Over time, the Israelites were neither safe nor prosperous because they had no leadership. In the last verse of the Book of Judges, we read, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
The Israelites thought a strong leader like a king would end their troubles. They agitated to have a monarchy like their enemies and surrounding kingdoms did. They demanded Samuel appoint a king so that they could be like other nations.
But Samuel, the prophet that he was, warned the Israelites of the downside of having a strong leader like a king. He told them a king would have considerable power over them such as conscripting their sons into the military and taking crops and livestock from their farms to feed the king’s armies. Most significantly, however, a king would have the power to enslave the Israelites. While what the people wanted in the short term would not last, thus, over time, Samuel was proven correct, but that’s a topic for another homily.
Nonetheless, human history has shown that when times are uncertain and things are not going well, many people think the answer to their prayers is a strong, demagogic leader who says things like, “Only I can fix it.” In recent times, demagogic leaders like Putin, Hitler, Mussolini, and a few others fall into that category. People vote for and support people despots out of desperation. However, the usual result is that their circumstances do not improve, and more likely, get worse.
Jesus, however, shows us a different path than history’s despots. If ever one person alone could fix everything, that person is Jesus. He did not divide people against each other by playing fast and loose with the facts, but he taught us to love one another as God the Father loved him. What made Jesus special was his dual nature of full divinity and full humanity.
John the Baptist is often called “The last of the Old Testament Prophets”. Indeed the Song of Zechariah proclaims about him, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go. before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins.” In today’s Gospel John the Baptist recognized the special calling of Jesus when he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” His words thus acted as the gateway from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. He spoke the day after he had baptized Jesus, the event which we celebrated last Sunday.
The portion of John’s Gospel preceding today’s reading does not explicitly memorialize the Baptism of Jesus as the synoptic Gospels do, but it is implied: the text tells us the Holy Spirit “descended from heaven like a dove and remained on him,” at which time John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
Keep in mind that the synoptic Gospels are about what Jesus did, but John’s Gospel is about who Jesus is. John the Baptist instantly recognized who Jesus was. What did he mean by that statement?
Lambs, in the Jewish and Middle-Eastern cultures in the time of Jesus, were sacrificial beings. They were slaughtered and burnt on the altars of Jewish and other temples to please a divinity. In the case of pagans, it was to false gods, but for Jews, it was to the one, true, and only, God, as in the Shema found in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one, Blessed is the name of his glorious Kingdom forever and ever.”
The three conventional Christian interpretations of the phrase, “Lamb of God” are: first, as applied to Jesus, the imagery of a lamb was to foreshadow his death on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity; second, another popular view is that the Lamb of God in the person of Jesus is the Suffering Servant in the Servant Songs in Deutero-Isaiah; and third, the Lamb of God was a symbol of conquest.
While all of these views flow from respected scholars, they don’t describe the Jesus I know. Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God, but a lamb, as applied to Jesus, symbolizes gentleness and vulnerability. How could anyone want to harm a creature like that? If you’ve ever been to a petting zoo and hugged a little lamb, as I have, you’d know what I mean.
Describing Jesus as a gentle and vulnerable lamb underscores the sadistic sinfulness of the behavior of those who perpetrated his crucifixion. And what do those qualities of gentleness and vulnerability tell us about whom Jesus really is? Was his vocation, that of Rabbi, the same as his calling as the long-awaited Messiah who will make all things right, as recognized by Andrew in today’s Gospel?
In classic Jewish eschatology, the Messiah is a future Jewish king genealogically descended from King David expected to be anointed with holy oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age and world to come. Is that what Andrew was expecting of Jesus? Andrew and the other disciples would soon find out who Jesus was. What they will learn is that although the vocation of Jesus was that of Rabbi, his calling was to be God’s Son, as John the Baptist recognized in today’s Gospel.
The overarching message of the Gospel of John is that Jesus was God’s Son. That was his essence, which transcended what he did. We hear that in its prologue, that is, the first eighteen verses, where Jesus as the Word of God is identified as God’s only Son. That theme was developed in more detail in what’s called the Book of Signs, that is, from chapter one, verse nineteen, through the end of chapter twelve.
Generally speaking, a sign is that which points to something else, like a street sign denoting the location of a street or a speed sign pointing to the law regarding the speed of cars on a particular stretch of roadway. However, in a biblical context, signs are often significant events, act, or other manifestation that demonstrates God’s presence or intention. The seven miracles that Jesus performed are just that in the Book of Signs in John’s Gospel. Those miracles pointed to who he was: the Son of God. Jesus changed water into wine at Cana. Jesus healed the son of a royal official at Capernaum. Jesus healed the paralytic at Bethesda. Jesus fed five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two small fishes. Jesus walked on water. Jesus healed a man blind from birth. And Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. In doing all these things, Jesus did what only God could do. Jesus proved his divine nature. Jesus proved the prophecy of John the Baptist regarding who he was.
In all of these miracles, Jesus did not take on the persona of a conquering hero in the military tradition of King David, as many were expecting of a Messiah, but Jesus showed humanity that he was a Messiah on God’s terms who demonstrated who God is as explained throughout the Book of Psalms: full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, long-suffering and of great goodness. Jesus demonstrated the gentleness and vulnerability of a lamb through his sensitivity to the people involved in each of those seven miracle signs.
Jesus was sensitive to the needs of people wanting to celebrate the joy of a wedding. Jesus was sensitive to the need for healing an ill person. Jesus was sensitive to the desires of a paralyzed person to walk. Jesus was sensitive to human hunger for food. Jesus was sensitive to the fears of his disciples when he walked on water to rescue his disciples from a storm. Jesus was sensitive to the desire of a blind man for eyes to see. And Jesus was sensitive to the grieving family of Lazarus.
In all of this, Jesus proved he was the gentle and vulnerable Lamb of God. That was his calling. He was lucky enough to have his vocation of Rabbi align with his calling to be the Son of God. And it is in that position, at God’s Son, that Jesus calls us to join him on his mission to effectuate the Kingdom of God here on earth, a kingdom where the homeless are housed, the hungry fed, and the infirm healed.
What is Jesus calling you to do in building the Kingdom of God? Jesus calls us to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant. Last Sunday, Deacon Sharon presented the Baptismal Covenant to which we are all called when we are baptized. But what about our daily, earthly existence on a practical basis?
Ideally, our vocation and calling should align. For example, those called to be musicians should be musicians as their life’s work. Those called to play an instrument, sing, or compose should do exactly that as their job. But unfortunately, however, due to the way our economic system is set up, only a small percentage of those called to be musicians actually do that as their life’s work.
Those musicians who are not independently wealthy are forced to survive by serving the needs of others in vocations that are not always synonymous with their callings as musicians. Many musicians with graduate degrees are restaurant servers, janitors, secretaries, and just about every other non-musical vocation. They operate in a tension between who they are and what they actually do, to the world’s detriment. Imagine a concert pianist so consumed with a job as an office manager who has no time to practice. The music that pianist could have given to stir the hearts and souls of humanity has been forever lost. That situation, and many others like it, is so sad. It calls for a re-thinking of the capitalist economic system. How that happens, however, is a topic for another day.
As a young person approaching adulthood, I had little guidance in ascertaining my calling beyond what grandmother Rosalie at age eight. I had plenty of advice as to vocation, but none except her as to my calling. Nonetheless, discerning what is one’s calling can and must remain a priority for everyone, particularly young people.
Again, Jesus sets a helpful example for us to follow. The ideal of the imitation of Jesus has been an important element of Christian theology, ethics, and spirituality from the earliest of days of Christianity. Although the concept of “imitation” as such does not appear in the canonical Gospels, Jesus hints at it when he said, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Saint Paul is more explicit. In first Thessalonians, Paul invites us to imitate himself and Jesus. For Paul, the imitation of Jesus involves a readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit. The author of Ephesians tells us, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” Our calling as Christians must be to imitate Jesus, the Lamb of God, in all his gentleness and vulnerability.
Thomas á Kempis, a German-Dutch theologian of the late medieval period, wrote a little book called “The Imitation of Christ” in the year fourteen eighteen. This book is the world’s second best seller, behind only the Bible itself. Kempis stresses the importance of solitude and silence, “how undisturbed a conscience we would have if we never went searching after ephemeral joys nor concerned ourselves with affairs of the world…”
Kempis writes that the “World and all its allurements pass away” The book contains a dialogue between the author and Jesus, who said that the sooner one resigns wholeheartedly to God, and no longer seeks anything according to one’s own will or pleasure, but totally places all in God’s hands, the sooner will one be united with God and be at peace. To do that is to be, in the truest sense, a “Lamb of God,” gentle and vulnerable. As our Second Reading reminds us, the human person is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do her work within us will allow us to imitate Jesus in finding who we are.
In responding to the call of Jesus, we must keep our eyes on the prize. The Eastern Church has a very viable way to approach that. They think of Christian Spirituality is as “life in Christ,” a life of commitment to the Lord with the ultimate goal of mystical union with God. A spiritual person who truly hears the call of Jesus lives a purified existence free of worldly and defects to be united with the love of Christ beyond the level of the material world. A gentle, vulnerable person, one who is like a lamb, has a better chance of achieving that goal than does a despotic leader or one who is part of an insurrectionist mob.
All of us, including myself, are a long way from being a Lamb of God. We imperfect humans throw up walls around ourselves for survival’s sake to protect the vulnerable lamb inside ourselves. But that vulnerable lamb within us is the source of our love for God and for each other. Peter, Andrew, and the other disciples were attracted to the sensitivity and vulnerability of who Jesus was. That is what attracts me to Jesus, and should attract all of us to hear the call of Jesus. We show that we hear the call of Jesus by living the Baptismal Covenant which Deacon Sharon explained to us last Sunday in her excellent homily.
The promises of our Baptismal Covenant include a commitment to proclaim the Good News. Saint Andrew heeded the call of Jesus to do exactly that. After the events of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, he became an evangelical missionary, proclaiming the Gospel in what are now the countries of Turkey and Georgia. And he became the first Patriarch of Constantinople, the historical leader of Eastern Christianity. As recounted in the Book of Acts, Saint Peter was the earliest leader of the Apostle and later became the Bishop of Rome. Very few of us will ever become bishops—I certainly will not—but all of us who are baptized can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus by word and example.
The promises of our baptismal covenant call us to continue the traditions of the Church. We show Jesus that we have heard his call by loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls through worship in the beauty of holiness in a dignified celebration of the Holy Eucharist as we do here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community.
Our baptismal covenant also mentions mutual love between ourselves and our neighbors. We show Jesus that we have heard his call to love our neighbors as ourselves by treating others as we would like to be treated and not doing something to someone else you would not want to be done to you. And who is our neighbor? It is anyone in need of love, and that is all of us. Imagine if we had a world based on love instead of the divisive pursuit of self-interest.
Listen to God’s call for you and be who you are, which may not necessarily be what the world expects of you. If you are a living temple of the Holy Spirit, you will hear God’s call to you. Be like Samuel. Be like Andrew. Be like Peter. And be like Jesus. God is calling you. AMEN.