2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19 | 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20 | John 1:35-42
Almighty, everliving God, who governs all things, both in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the pleading of your people and bestow your peace on our times. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
WE begin the ordinary time of the church this Sunday. It always gives us a feeling that we’ve just finished a major series of feasts that focus on very specific things, and now we go into what we call ordinary time, which tells the story of Jesus once again, the story of a Messiah coming and changing everything.
To me, what is amazing about the Old Testament is that it's a system based on some very simple things, such as the fact that God is the God who created us, and he has a plan for us. His plan is that we grow into a people who are like him. In the beginning of the time we have with him, he tells us about our patterns of behavior, and he says, “These are the things you should stop doing, and these are the things you should do.” And so as he calls a people and begins to speak to them, he is calling together a community, and he uses people to speak for him. And the motivation he gives them is that they need to follow what God is asking them to do, because if they don’t, there will be destruction. In a way, he’s saying, “You will self-destruct if you don’t change your ways, if you don’t enter into an understanding of the value and the importance of life.” But in truth, it came across as, “If you don’t do what I say, I will curse you, and I will destroy you.” So it was a system based, in a sense, on something that is, I think, anxiety-causing. This God who loves me, the God who created me, who wants very much for me to be who he asks me to be, and if I do, he blesses me, which feels good, but at the same time, almost in the same breath, he could say, “Well, but you didn’t do what I said,” so with almost equal intensity, he says, “I want to destroy you. I want to save you. I want to destroy you.” So think of it as a kind of stressful world in our relationship with God, because we’re always struggling against our weaknesses. I love the opening prayer of this mass, because it says, “We pray always, we plead for peace, an inner sense of well-being, a quiet, still inner place.”
So all throughout this time of the Old Testament, there’s a longing for something, something more than is there. It’s a longing for a Messiah, and it’s an integral part of the whole story. So it’s really interesting. You don’t find the same thing in the New Testament. You find it only in the Old Testament, where there’s something missing that isn’t yet made present, but it’s coming. It’s coming. Now, what is a Messiah? What does it mean? A Messiah means a liberator, someone who releases people from whatever burdens them, from prison, from addiction, from child abuse, from all those things that seem to rob us from life. So it’s fascinating to me that we are given, in this first reading, an understanding of this Messiah’s presence making itself felt in the world. You see hints of him in the Old Testament, and in the story of Samuel, an interesting man; he is one of those people in the Old Testament who had a miraculous birth. John the Baptist was born of a barren, older woman. Sam was born of a barren, older woman. Mary obviously conceived a child in a very unique way, but it would seem to me that if you knew that story — and I would have to think that story was well-known to a son, a boy like Samuel. God had a plan for him, and he was special. He dedicated himself right away to the temple. Somehow he knew that there was something about him that was important or special, or at least he had God’s favor in a special way. It's so important that every one of us believes we have God’s favor in a special way. So he’s in the temple. That’s where he lives, and where he works with Eli. And you hear for the first time in this prophet’s life, God beginning to reveal his Messiahship, in a sense, and the Messiah takes the form of God reaching into a human being’s life in a very personal way and saying, “I want to speak with you. I want to talk with you. I want you to listen to me, and I will reveal myself to you.”
Eli doesn’t realize that the call is literally from God, so he thinks it is from his teacher, the head of the whole temple. Isn’t it interesting? He’s used to authority, but not the kind of authority that speaks so intimately to him. The authority of God comes to him and says, “I would like you to listen to me. I want to reveal something to you.” And the word is so interesting. What he reveals is not information, but instead he asks Samuel to pay attention to his presence. He reveals his presence to him. What a fascinating image, God making himself present to a human being. Something in the Old Testament that would have been … just to conceive it would have been a blasphemy. God is so great. We are so much less than he. He is so perfect. We are so imperfect. There’s no way God would ever come close personally to a human being’s heart like that without destroying the human being. So something is shifting. It’s the end of the period of the prophets, before the period of the kings, which is a very dark time. It’s almost like at the end of those — all those wonderful prophets who spoke for Jesus, and they spoke God’s words to them, often words to the people who were harsh and difficult. “Change or you’ll die.” Here comes a new way of God working with people, coming into them and revealing his presence, saying, “I want to dwell with you. I want to stay with you.” Isn’t it interesting, the image of presence and staying?
So we go to the New Testament, to the gospel, and what’s clear in this story is that there must have been something in the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, since John knew something about him was different. He must have had numerous conversations about the shape of the church and the shape of the temple and the corruption in it and what was going to happen. So somehow in being in the presence of Jesus, John the Baptist knew he was someone special, and he had an insight that was extraordinarily effective and powerful, and so he has his followers. It’s always fascinating that John the Baptist, who is considered one of the greatest of the Old Testament figures, and his greatness is always about the fact that he didn’t take Jesus's power to himself and make himself — or didn’t get, how would I say, inflated by his position, like many did in the Old Testament, especially the kings. But he knew that he was just a part of the story, and so he was willing to turn it over to someone greater than himself. And he said, “This Jesus is greater than I am.” And so he’s with his disciples, and he sees Jesus walk by. It would have been interesting. They might have been sitting at a place having coffee or something, and Jesus, who was well-known, was walking by, and he said, “That’s the message right there. That’s the one. You ought to go and get to know him.” The disciples go, and they stop Jesus, and Jesus is interested in their question. And what’s interesting is the question. It’s not like, “What do you teach, or what’s your insight into the problems we have? How are we going to get out of this horrible, corrupt temple and all the pain and suffering that’s in the world?” They didn’t ask for an answer. They asked where he was staying. “Where do you stay? Where do you live? Who are you? What do you believe? What do you think?” It’s an interesting, beautiful image of not looking to this Messiah as a source of information that will tell you what you can do then, but the Messiah is somebody you’re invited to spend time with, stay with, dwell with, live with, live next to.
It’s so interesting what happens when people live together. We’re mimetic people. We imitate, and people probably teach more by their example than everything they’re saying. It’s what they’re doing, who they are, their moral fiber. It’s what the second reading is talking about. The body is made for morality, not for immorality. It means our bodies are an extension of who we are. Our bodies, in a sense, are a physical manifestation of who we are, and they resonate who we are, whether we’re moral or not. If we’re — think of moral as being in tune with our true nature. A moral person is in sync with who God created them to be and who God wants them to be. Immorality is a kind of distortion. And so the body is made to resonate a goodness that is deep inside a person, and when you spend time in the presence of that person, you are being fed, taught, healed, touched. It’s the essence of what it is to have this mysterious relationship with God, this presence, and I use that word a lot, because I think it’s a very important word to understand who we are to each other and who God is to us.
And I’m thinking, how do we check our presence? How do we know we’re being present? Well, I think the first thought that comes to my mind is it’s a natural thing. So it’s not something you have to do, but then how do you check your presence? How do you watch it? Do you have to be so like — is it all about good manners? Is it about how you say thank you and please and let women go through the door first and all those kind of little gestures? Well, it may be part of that, but it really is a manifestation of your intention. What is your intention? Intention is so fascinating. You’ve heard me say this before, but science has really looked at this, and physics is discovering that someone’s presence actually has the power to change matter, to change things. At least that’s a theory, maybe not absolutely, totally proven yet, but it seems to be absolutely, clearly stated in the story of the life of Jesus when his very presence had this healing magnetism, a resonance coming out of it and drawing people into it. And what was all that? What was he carrying all the time? It seems there were times when people asked him if he would please do something for them, and he would. And then there were times when he didn’t even know it was happening, somebody bumping into him in a crowd, drawing life, grace, favor out of him, and he felt it, or someone touching the hem of his garment. He feels it. What is that? What is it that they’re latching onto other than a man walking amidst people with the intention, “I want to save them. I want to free them. I want them to be who they’re called to be. I want them to understand themselves. I want them to understand who God is. I want them to feel all these things that will liberate them.” And they’re not easy to explain. I think that’s the most fascinating thing about — the teaching of the Old Testament is pretty easy to understand. These are the rules. You do these, this happens. You don’t do these, that happens. That isn’t very mysterious or etheric or hard to grasp, but presence, intention, God staying with me, My staying with God? Staying in the presence of another person is a very interesting image. It means you’re there, actually really there. You know how you’ve been with people, and they’re not there. You go out with a bunch of friends, and somebody is going through something. They’re not really present, and you may talk to them later. “Where were you tonight? You weren’t there.” What is it, being there, other than some kind of decision we’ve made that we want to be something, that we can be something, that we are in touch with something that enables us to be something? All those things are ways of imagining and thinking that are so key to this world of the Messiah, because we’re called to be like him. What an incredible experience, to be like him. How? He dwells in us. How’s that? I don’t have to imitate him. I don’t have to be like him. I just have to have him in me, knowing he’s there. He’s like my intention. He’s like my desire, my longing to not make life more burdensome, but to make it lighter, more peaceful, more joyous, as it was intended to be.
Father, your promises release us from all our burdens, all that weighs heavy upon us. Free us from an excessive concern for our failures and open us to the beauty of the potential that is in us as you join us in our journey on this planet so we can be an instrument, just as you were, of bringing life and peace and truth to those around us. And we ask this through Christ our Lord, amen.