The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: 1Sam 3:3-10,19; Ps 85; 1Cor 6:13-20; Jn 1:35-42
Do you remember that poem, "The Hound of Heaven", by the British poet, Francis Thompson? If you attended a Catholic school way back when, you probably do. Remember the first lines?
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
"I fled him..."
Those words, and the rest of that long poem, didn’t mean much to me when I was young, but now…well, I’ve come to understand it. Because that’s the way God is: He doesn’t let go. I know, because He’s been after me all my life. That’s right…it started when I was just a kid, and hasn’t stopped.

“Follow me,” [Jn 1:43] He says. Always asking me to stop what I’m doing and change the entire direction of my life. And didn’t He say something about not being worthy to follow Him unless you “took up a cross?” [Mt 16:24] Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t like the sound of that.

But, you know, the more I ignored Him, the more persistent He became. Really irritating. I wasn’t leading a bad life. I suppose it wasn’t a particularly good one either. It was…well, it was normal. Anyway, there seemed to be plenty of folks out there who needed God a lot more than I did. So I went through the motions of Christianity, and ignored the hard stuff…you know, the Cross. But God just kept coming like that “Hound of Heaven”, and I responded…well, just as the poet did…

Foolish, isn’t it? To think we can simply run away from God, that like Adam and Eve in the Garden we can hide from Him, or like Peter we can deny Him: “Who? Jesus? Don’t know Him. Never saw Him before in my life.” Or that we can make so much noise in our lives that it will somehow drown out God’s incessant, but gentle call. And do you know what? Here I am, old and in Florida and He’s still calling -- “Follow Me” -- still leading me to new forms of discipleship.

And if my past is any guide, I’ll take them on in fits and starts. For unlike Samuel in today’s first reading, or Peter and Andrew in the Gospel, “Follow Me” just won’t be enough. As He has in the past, He’ll have to drag me behind Him kicking and screaming.

I suppose that’s the question for each one of us: “What does God want of me?” Well, first of all, He wants us – that’s you and me – simply to listen and to respond to His call.

"Speak, for your servant is listening."
Look again at today’s 1st reading. Samuel is just a child, and when God calls him, it takes Eli to explain what’s happening, to point the way. And so Samuel responds to God’s call with an act of faith: “Speak, for your servant is listening” [1 Sam 3:10].

This is the first thing God wants from each of us. He wants an act of faith. It was pretty much the same for Andrew and Peter in today’s Gospel. Like Eli, John the Baptist points the way: “Behold, the Lamb of God” [Jn 1L29] The disciples heard and followed. This is Jesus’ call, the same call God issued at the very dawn of salvation history when He told Abraham to: “Walk in my presence and be blameless” [Gen 17:1].

Notice, God’s always the One who takes the initiative. It’s He who calls Samuel in the night. It’s He who seeks out Abraham and Moses and Paul, the persecutor of Christians. It’s He who turns to the disciples and speaks to them. Later on in John’s Gospel Jesus states this clearly: “It is not you who chose me. I chose you” [Jn 15:16].

But discipleship has a cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed by Hitler in the final days of World War II, wrote a wonderful book, The Cost of Discipleship. In it he writes:
“And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we will have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ…knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.”
Yes, discipleship has a great return, but also a cost.  Only Jesus knows the cost. Only He knows the demands. And so He keeps this “cost of discipleship” from the least for now.

Behold! The Lamb of God!
That’ll come later, much later. For now He just asks them. “What are you looking for?” Why have they turned to the Lamb of God? But they don’t answer the question, and instead ask one of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” [Jn 1:38]

You see, they’re not exactly sure what they’re looking for, but they know they’ve found it in Jesus. They want to be with Him. They want to spend the day with Him. And Jesus knows this. His answer is brief, “Come and you will see” [Jn 1:39]. But He’s not speaking of a house. He’s speaking of discipleship, for Jesus stays wherever His disciples are. He abides with them and within them. It’s just what happened to Samuel after responding in faith to God’s call. How does Scripture put it? “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him…” [1 Sam 3:19].

To be Jesus’ disciple, to be a Christian, we must first respond to His call, and we must do so in faith. But that’s not all. We must live in Jesus Christ and He in us. In other words, we must follow Him wherever He leads us. And of one thing we can be sure. Following Christ always leads to the Cross.

Now I don’t mean that, like Peter and Andrew, every Christian must suffer martyrdom, although in today’s world many Christians are doing just that. There’s no discipleship, no following of Jesus, that doesn’t include His cross.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the disciples. And He asks each of us the same question. What exactly are you looking for? Why have you turned to Jesus?

Is He your security blanket, something warm and fuzzy to hide you from a hostile world?

Is He your problem solver, the one you call on when you mess up some piece of your life?

Is He your miracle worker, a superman-God, the one you turn to when things get really bad?

In other words, are you the kind of Christian who calls on Jesus to follow you? Or, like Samuel and Andrew and Peter, have you turned to Jesus simply because He called you? Simply because He whispered, “Follow me.”

He’s really called you, you know. He’s called each of us. I’m not going to argue the point, because if you don’t believe this, you’re not a Christian. He called Samuel to be a prophet and a kingmaker. He called Peter – weak-willed Peter, full of bluster and empty promises – He called Peter to be the head of His Church. What has He called you to do? You’ll never know until you respond in faith.

“Come and you will see,” Jesus says.

Only if you say yes to Him: yes to joy; yes to sorrow; yes to all His brothers and sisters – the weak, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the despised, the hated and the haters… all those sinners out there, sinners like you and me. Come and you will see…only if you say yes to God’s call to live the life of Christ.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. What kind of disciple are you? Follow Jesus and you will come to know Him. Live like Him and you will love Him. Live in Him and He will live in you, and you will die with Him and live eternally with Him.

Oh, yes, one final thing…If, like the poet, you decide to run away from Him, if you decide not to be His disciple, your decision means absolutely nothing…because He’ll keep calling and chasing you right up to the moment you breathe your last breath. He does this because He loves you…and that, brothers and sisters is the Good News.

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