ordinary time The Sánchez Archives

Year B

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Here I am

1 SAMUEL 3:3-10, 19
1 CORINTHIANS 6:13-15, 17-20
JOHN 1:35-42

Even a cursory glance of the readings for today will enable the reader to easily identify their unifying theme, viz. vocation. Samuel in the first reading (1 Samuel) was called by God for service and was aided in discerning the authenticity of his vocation by his mentor, Eli. In the second reading, Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians reminds the gathered assembly that their vocation to follow Christ demands a new way of life which reflects the presence of Sprit and the blessings of salvation.

The Johannine evangelist (gospel) describes Christian vocation as a personal invitation to come to Christ, to see the truth as revealed in Jesus, and to stay forever faithful to him throughout life.

However, there is another aspect of the vocation of the believer which may warrant some consideration. At the conclusion of the first reading from 1 Samuel, the Deuteronomic historian characterized the book’s protagonist as follows: “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” In a sense, this thumbnail portrait of Samuel represents both the process and the ideal of Christian vocation.

To grow up as Samuel did, in the presence of God is a process of deliberate and decisive maturation, wherein each day is accepted as an opportunity for renewed commitment, a deepening of faith and a greater responsibility for the Judaeo-Christian heritage of the Word. In order for growth to be steady, holy and wholesome, the Word must be allowed to speak to, and be reflected in, every aspect of the human experience. At times the Word will pose a challenge to a particular decision, habit or life-style and will provide the impetus for change and conversion. At other times the Word will offer comfort and consolation. In some instances, the Word will be a source of courage and, when necessary, the Word will chastise.

For our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Word is comprised of the preserved treasure of the law (Torah), the prophets (Nebiim) and the writings (Kethubim). Together, Torah, Nebiim and Kethubim are TaNaK, a guide for living, believing and growing in God.

For believers in Jesus, the Law, prophets and writings find their complement in the gospels, early church chronicles (Acts), letters, and apocalyptic literature, which comprise the Christian Scriptures, and their fulfillment in God’s ultimate Word to humankind, viz., Jesus Christ.

What was remarkable about Samuel was the fact that his embrace of God’s word was so absolute, that it became his reason for being, i.e. his vocation was to serve the Word by attending to its message, by living according to its challenge, and by calling others to do likewise. Samuel’s relationship with the Word of God necessitated authenticity and personal integrity on his part. His yes had to mean yes; his no had to mean no. Samuel’s ministry as emissary and prophet required that he said what he meant and that he meant what he said. For him, there could be no deceiving or disingenuousness.

As George B. Caird (“1 Samuel”, The Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdom Press, Nashville: 1953) explained, “to the Israelite a word was an almost concrete expression of the character and intentions of the person who uttered it and partook of that character and those intentions.” Like the people who speak them, words can be active (Hebrews 4:12) or idle (Matthew 12:36). In either case, words are the special responsibility of those who use them. “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37); this was Jesus’ charge to the Pharisees, whose words were not always consonant with their hearts or actions.

Because Samuel spoke the Word of God, his words were not idle but active. Moreover, Samuel’s words had the power to effect what was spoken (see Isaiah 55:10-11). His total presence to the Word is reflected in his eager response, “Here I am” (v. 8) and in his attentiveness, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Perhaps the example of Samuel is held out to the praying community at the beginning of this new year, 1997, to remind believers of the dangers of sklerokardia or “hardness of heart.” A syndrome caused by a lack of attentiveness to the Word of God, this ailment is characterized by a gradual growing deafness and dullness of the heart (seat of the intellect and will) and results in stunted spiritual growth and alienation from God. Since, today, we have been given the gift of the Word, let us take care to hear it, keep it, live it, and harden not our hearts. With Samuel, we pray: Here I am, Lord; speak your Word, I am listening.

1 SAMUEL 3:3-10, 19

Not many of us can claim as dramatic a call to ministry as that of Samuel, but the elements included in this narrative are common to most vocations. Notice that Samuel was called while he was already in the service of the Lord, having been dedicated to God at birth by his mother, Hannah. The fact that Samuel was asleep when he was called is significant; vocations can occur at anytime, in any place, amid any sort of activity.

Some scholars cite Samuel’s sleeping as an example of the ancient phenomenon called “sacred slumber” during which the sleeping person hoped to receive a special revelation or a divine message via a dream. However, it would seem more probable that Samuel was sleeping in the temple because he had been assigned to tend the sacred flame (1 Samuel 3:3a). A custom, attributed to the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 27:20-21) the perpetual flame was a sign of the abiding presence of God.

Another factor common to most vocations is the fact that Samuel was not immediately cognizant of being called by God. Nor for that matter was his mentor, Eli. As Paula J. Bowes (“1 Samuel”, The Collegeville Bible Commentary, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville: 1989) has observed, “There is humor in Samuel’s naive running to Eli three times before the old priest realizes that it is the Lord calling.” As in Samuel’s case, vocations frequently require discernment, the help of others and sage advice. When he finally recognized his calling as authentic, Samuel’s admirable response was eager, sincere and sustained.

As readers of 1 Samuel will recall, the young man’s vocation would eventually result in the removal of Eli and his house (sons) from the priesthood. Characterized as worthless louts (literally: “sons of Belial”) Eli’s sons were said to have lost their knowledge of God; in other words, their slovenly behavior and profane liturgies reflected a hardness of heart such that they no longer experienced or obeyed God. Samuel’s eager attentiveness to God, the temple, and his share of the duties stood out in marked contrast to the mediocrity and recalcitrance of the house of Eli (1 Samuel 2:11-26).

Because this narrative of Samuel’s vocation occurs in such proximity to the commemoration of Jesus’ baptism (January 12), the community may be drawn to notice the similarity between these two key figures in our tradition. Like Jesus, the circumstances of Samuel’s birth were unusual. Mary’s conception was attributed to the power of the Most High. Hannah had been barren for years and Samuel’s birth came as an answer to prayer. One need only compare the thanksgiving prayers attributed to Hannah (1 Samuel 1-10) and to Mary (Luke 1:46-55) to realize that the early church made the Samuel-Jesus connection and regarded the former as a type of the latter. Both men were faithful emissaries of God’s word, one in his very person, the other through his ministry; both were instrumental in helping others to better know and understand the word, the ways and will of God. Both Samuel and Jesus continue to be exemplars for all sincere believers who daily attend and try to discern the meaning of God’s word and God’s call in their lives.

1 CORINTHIANS 6:13-15, 17-20

In order to better appreciate the full impact of this excerpted exhortation to the Corinthian Christians, a glance at the context of Paul’s remarks may prove beneficial. Earlier in his correspondence, Paul had characterized his readers’ lives before their conversion to Christ as being dissipated and defiled by frivolous lawsuits, injustice, cheating, deceptions, idolatry, fornication, adultery, sexual perversion, drunken excess, thievery and slander (1 Corinthians 6:7-9).

“That”, said Paul, “is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (v. 11) Notice that Paul chose to describe the washing, sanctification and justification of believers with passive verbs. As Kevin Quast (Reading the Corinthian Correspondence, Paulist Press, New York: 1994) has pointed out, “the Corinthians did not change themselves; God through his Son and his Spirit cleansed them, set them apart as his holy people and acquitted them.” In other words the wondrous grace of conversion is a process that begins with God, i.e. with a call or vocation to live life in a new and different direction.

But the fact that they had been baptized had not thoroughly washed away the Corinthians’ past habits, foibles and philosophies. Many still ascribed to the proto-gnostic notion that the material universe and therefore, the body, were of no consequence and could be used and/or abused with impunity. No doubt, this belief stemmed from the dichotomous Greek anthropology which viewed the human person as an immortal spirit trapped in a mortal, corporal prison. According to an ancient Greek proverb, “The body is a tomb.” Epictetus is credited with saying, “I am a poor soul, shackled to a corpse.”

Paul, however, came from a Hebrew background with an understanding of the human person as a living, integral nefesh brought into being by the very life-breath of God (Genesis 2:7). Since his conversion, Paul also believed that Christ’s saving death and resurrection had effected the redemption of all of humankind, body and spirit (or soul). Therefore, and this is where today’s second reading picks up the thread of Pauline soteriology, the redeemed are to live in accordance with the gifts they have received.

No longer a corporeal and disposable cage for an inner, more valuable self the body is for the Lord and must be respected as a member of the Body of Christ (vv. 14-15). Because of Christ’s saving action, the body has become a temple of the Spirit and must be reverenced as a holy place (vs 19). Since the whole human person will know the joy of resurrection, believers are to, here and now, prepare for immortality by preserving themselves from immorality (v. 13).

Some will hear today’s second reading from Paul and say, “But this is the nineties!. . . The first century apostle’s advice was culturally determined and is outdated by shifting contemporary values. . .” Paul’s prohibitions may seem distasteful and even intolerant to a society which, as Judge Robert Bourke observed is “slouching toward Gomorrah.” But, rather than allow the fear of A.I.D.S and sexually transmitted diseases to dictate sexual behavior, believers are called to a more positive commitment to morality. In answer to the cultural determinists who would dismiss these exhortations, Paul Wrightmann (Paul’s Early Letters, Alba House, New York: 1983)

suggests that the apostle’s insights “spring from revelatory experience as well as culture; that revelation transforms culture in the same way that grace transforms nature.” Accordingly, Paul could not countenance casual or sexual relationships because they offer an “offense against the nature of reality, reality being God’s design and not our own invention.” What Paul “has to say concerning sex is not only a basic principle of Christian morality, but a revelatory insight into the real nature of bodily existence.” (Paul Wrightmann, op.cit.) In a word, Paul reminds us that we are to glorify God in our bodies; we belong to Christ, we are temples of the Spirit, we are not our own.

JOHN 1:35-42

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall that day in Bethany when Jesus invited two of John the Baptizer’s disciples to “Come and see” where he stayed. Although the evangelist tells us nothing of what transpired in the home where Jesus was lodged, his readers need only consider the aftermath of that encounter in order to appreciate its importance. What word did Jesus say to his two guests? The gospel tells us that one of them was Andrew; many scholars believe that Andrew’s unnamed companion that day was the apostle John, who later became one of the major sources for the Johannine oral tradition. If so, then what did Jesus do that made such an impression on John and Andrew. All we know is that, behind closed doors, and without public display or fanfare, the lives of two people were forever changed. From that day forward, and with a new focus and a new direction, they became disciples of Jesus.

Based on this and other similar narratives, Gerard Weber and Robert Miller (Breaking Open the Gospel of John, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati: 1995) have proposed that there are three discernible stages in discipleship. The first stage is curiosity, interest and fascination with the person of Jesus. The second is an actual decision to join his company, to listen and to learn from Jesus. The third is friendship, intimacy with Jesus and with the God who spoke him into our midst.

In considering these stages and discerning them in our own lives, it may prove helpful to begin with the initial question Jesus asked: “What are you looking for?” This is the question which leaps out to confront every reader of the gospel. Raymond E. Brown (“The Gospel According to John”, Vol. 29, The Anchor Bible, Doubleday and Co. Inc., New York: 1966) suggests that this question touches on the basic human need which causes a person to turn to God and the answer of the disciple must be interpreted on the same theological level.

The disciples’ counter-question to Jesus, “Where do you stay?” (v. 38) gave voice to their basic need to stay (menein dwell, abide) with God in order to escape temporality, change, death and to discover a secure and lasting refuge. Later in the gospel, the same Greek term, menein would be used to describe the enduring relationship between Jesus and God, and between Jesus and the believer, through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see” is also a masterpiece of Johannine insight. To come to Jesus meant to have faith in him (see John 3:21; 5:40; 6:35, 37, 45; 7:37 for other examples of those who came to Jesus as believers). Seeing is another Johannine term which meant to perceive with the eyes of faith. As R. Brown (op.cit.) further explained, elsewhere in the gospel “eternal life is promised respectively to those who come to Jesus, to those who look on him and to those who believe in him—three different ways of describing the same action.”

A wisdom motif is also subtly evidenced in the short exchange between Jesus and his would-be disciples. Recall the personification of Wisdom, raising her voice in the open squares, calling those who would know God to come to her (Proverbs 1:20-28). Remember also Wisdom’s promise that she is easily seen by those who love her and found by those who go looking for her (Wisdom 7:12). The Johannine evangelist understood that Wisdom had become incarnate in Jesus and that those wishing to know God should go looking for Jesus, and once they have come to him, to truly see him in faith and to stay with him.

Significantly the disciples’ experience of Jesus made them eager to draw others to him. Andrew went in search of Peter; he wished that his brother should also come and see and stay with Jesus. Andrew has set the example for the church. Each member of this gathered assembly has come here today, looking for Jesus. Having come to see and stay with him, we are now to draw others to share a similar experience of discipleship.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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