SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – JANUARY 16, 2000 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
As we begin a new calendar year and as we begin our walk through the ordinary Sundays of the liturgical year, the Church asks us to begin at the beginning. Last Monday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus, his empowerment by the Spirit for his messianic ministry. Today we are still there, near the Jordan, with John the Baptist’s testimony: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” And we hear of the calling of the first disciples. The whole public story of Jesus Christ is beginning.
But there is another beginning also stressed in today’s readings, the beginning of faith in the hearts of the disciples. We are prepared for it by the first reading, which recounts the call of the prophet Samuel. The young man hears his voice being named and seeks to know who is calling him, and only when it comes the third time is he assured by his mentor Eli that it is the Lord God who is calling him, and he can reply: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” We might see the story as a parable of the difficulty of discerning the call of God both because of the confused chatter of conflicting calls anyone of us may hear in the course of our lives but perhaps also because we may have trouble believing that a call could come to us. Samuel’s final simple prayer becomes then a basic prayer that everyone of us can say: “Speak, Lord, I am listening.” A prayer that should not be said lightly, of course: it might just be that if you pray it, you are going to hear something, and something from the Lord.
A similar journey towards discipleship is described in the Gospel. Two of John’s disciples hear his announcement of the Lamb of God and begin to trail after Jesus. An exchange between him and them then occurs, an exchange that must be read on two registers: “What are you looking for?” he asks them. It is a simple question, in an obvious sense, but beneath that meaning we can discern deeper Gospel meanings: We recall Christ’s promise: “Seek and you shall find,” with its implication that you will not find if you do not seek; and we might remember Augustine’s statement that to find Christ as the Bread of Life, we need to have a hunger in our heart. And so Jesus’ question to the disciples becomes a question he might ask of everyone of us today: “What are you looking for?” What are you looking for?” each and all of us might ask ourselves. Paul Tillich once wrote something any good teacher knows: “No one can receive an answer to a question he has not asked.”
“Where are you staying?” the disciples reply. Again, the question has an obvious meaning: “Where are you living?” But beneath that we discern the theme of dwelling that figures so prominently in the Gospel and Epistles of John: of the dwelling of the Word of God in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, of God’s dwelling in us, of our dwelling in him, of his assurance that his love dwells in us, of his commandment that we dwell in his love. It is, therefore, not only a question about Jesus, but a question about us, about where we may dwell, may safely be at home. It is the minimal, simple, initial question, to which Jesus responds.
And his response is equally simple: “Come and see.” Follow me and you will see, he says. And the whole Gospel then unfolds as the account of the disciples’ obedience to this invitation, not only in the day they now spend with him, but in the months and years during which they see the successive signs by which they will see his glory. “No one has ever seen God,” the Evangelist has already reminded us, “but the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has interpreted him.” Follow Jesus and you will see the unseeable God. And we will hear later of the blind man who is cured at the pool of Bethsaida, and of Jesus’ indictment of his critics who are the ones truly blind because they think they can see. “Come and see,” Jesus says. Come and see what you do not yet see. Come and see what you do not yet know it is even possible to see. Come and see things that one day may enable you to say, in the common ordinary phrase: “How could I have been so blind?” or to recall the words of the hymn: “I once was blind but now I see.”
These words are found at the beginning of this Gospel of light, of seeing, and they are read to us at the beginning of yet another cycle of readings during which we will be following Jesus in order to see where he lives, what he says, what he does. The Gospel readings are going to be familiar ones, ones we have heard many times before, and their very familiarity may cause them to sound over our heads, to pass unnoticed, unthreateningly, without personal consequence. If this happens, could it not be because they do not come to ears ready to listen, to eyes ready to see, to minds and hearts eager to learn? And are we not invited, as Samuel was, to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening?”; are we not invited, as the disciples were, to have a question: “Teacher, where are you staying?” Might we not consider that before every Scripture reading we might say: “Speak, Lord, I am listening”?, and before every Gospel what the blind man said: “Lord, I wish to see.”
And who knows, we might hear something, might see something. I mean not only that we might hear a call to a special ministry in the Church, which needs ever new men and women to tell of Jesus and to serve his people. I mean also that we might hear a call that is not a call to a special ministry in the Church, but is a call to a special personal way of being a Christian in the world. Is it not possible that he has been calling our names all along, only we have been reluctant to admit it, reluctant because we find it hard to believe that he could be calling us, reluctant because we do not want to be called, reluctant because we do not know in advance where it might lead? Understandable reluctance, perhaps, but ones difficult to reconcile with today’s readings, because if we don’t listen, we are never going to hear, and if we don’t follow Jesus in order to see where he lives, we may never know how blind we are.