Jan 18, 2015: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

1st Reading – 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am,” he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”

At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

The two books under Samuel’s name in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) correspond to one book in the Hebrew Bible, where it is located among the
“later prophets.” The Vulgate, following the Greek, puts 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings under the same heading: 1st through 4th Kings. The New Vulgate separates them into 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings.

Hebrew tradition has it that the inspired writer of 1st Samuel was the prophet Samuel himself, at least up to Chapter 25 where his death is described.

Samuel, who is regarded as the last of the judges, was the man chosen unite the tribes of Israel under a single king, a unification that was required for their survival against the Philistines. God used him to install Saul as the first king of Israel.

Today, we hear the account of Samuel’s call.

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was.

This is not merely some kind of sacristy responsibility — it was quite unusual that someone other than the high priest would have access to this most sacred space.  The author may be indicating that Samuel is a person destined for great things.

The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”  “I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.” So he went back to sleep. 

Samuel is a young boy, and Eli is the high priest.  There is a disarming innocence in Samuel’s mistaking the voice of God for that of Eli.

Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. “Here I am,” he said. “You called me.” But he answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.” At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.

We are told why such a misunderstanding could have occurred: Samuel had not yet had any communication with the Lord.

The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”

It is interesting that God called the inexperienced Samuel rather than the seasoned priest Eli.  Perhaps it indicates that something new is happening, that a new period in the history of the people was opening.

When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Note the difference: this last experience is more than a call, it includes some form of physical presence of the Lord.

Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel did as he was directed by Eli.

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

There is a clear difference between Samuel’s relationship with God before this experience and after.  Though pious, and despite having been dedicated to the service of God in the Temple, the young Samuel did not know God well and had received no revelation.  This encounter was transformative: a bond had been forged between him and God.  His responsiveness opened him further, enabling him to receive the word of God and, presumably, to speak it to others.

Note that it is God who made Samuel’s words effective.  The Hebrew translation reads: his words did not fall to the ground.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

Brothers and sisters:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord,
and the Lord is for the body;
God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.
Avoid immorality.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body
is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been purchased at a price.
Therefore glorify God in your body.

Each year in the span of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent, the Church embarks on a study of 1st Corinthians.  Today we begin in Chapter 6, roughly where we left off last year, in Cycle A.  The study of 1st Corinthians will conclude during this period next year, in Cycle C.

The busy port of Corinth had a lively and turbulent Christian community. This first surviving letter from Saint Paul to them treats difficulties in the community reported to Paul, who was probably in Ephesus in A.D. 57, by their envoys, then answers various questions they brought to him. In dealing with these moral and practical issues, Saint Paul imparts invaluable teaching about Christ as the Wisdom of God, the Church as His Body, and the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian community.

Earlier in the letter, Paul addressed various divisions and scandals within the Corinthian church. Today we deal with the last of the scandals addressed by Saint Paul: sexual immorality.

Brothers and sisters: The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; 

Paul furnishes the Corinthians with instruction on the sanctity of the human body (sóma).  The body is to be used in service to God, not for selfish immorality.

He is talking about the physical, corporeal dimension of the human being, not some kind of ethereal or spiritualized body.  Paul does indeed highly regard both the human spirit (pneúma) and the human soul (psyché), but he does not agree with the view of those who stress the spirit to the denigration of the body.

He contrasts the sanctity of the human body with sexual immorality (porneía).  Since the word comes from the verb “to sell” (pérnēmi), it literally means “sex for sale.”  The term covers a wide range of sexual improprieties such as prostitution, fornication, adultery, licentiousness, and even incest, sodomy, and unlawful marriage.

God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.

God honored the human body when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead; it will also be an honor to our bodies when they are raised.  Since it is through one’s body that this union with Christ is possible, this same body is to be revered.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 

It is through our bodies that we are members of Christ, and so joined, we become one spirit with Christ.  The image used here is one of intimate union, oneness of body and spirit.  It is not a sexual image; it does not suggest that our bodies are joined to the body of Christ.  It’s a metaphor that signifies incorporation: our bodies are members of Christ.

“Paul is not attacking the nature of the body but the unbridled license of the mind, which abuses the body. The body was not made for the purpose of fornication, nor was it created for gluttony. It was meant to have Christ as its head, so that it might follow Him. We should be overcome with shame and horror-struck if we defile ourselves with such great evils, once we have been accounted worthy of the great honor of being members of Him who sits on high.” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 392), Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 17,1]

Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body.

Sexual immorality has no place in the kingdom of God, not only because it is a violation of the integrity of the perpetrator and another human being, but because it defiles the intimate bond that exists between Christ and ever Christian.

By asserting that sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body, Paul expresses the intimacy and depth of sexual disorder, which violates the very orientation of our bodies.  These are bold statements in a world where sexual promiscuity was widely tolerated and rampant.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Paul goes on to assert that the Christian body is a temple inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and therefore it belongs to God.  Temples were not only designated sites for sacrifice and prayer, they were also the sacred places on earth where the deity dwelt.  If our bodies are temples, then God dwells within us.

Because the Spirit claims our bodies at its abode, we no longer have absolute rights over them.

For you have been purchased at a price.

In fact, our bodies have been purchased for God at the price of Christ’s blood, and God exerts authority in their regard.  As temples, our bodies should be kept sacred, free from whatever might defile or debase them.

“Someone who has been bought does not have the power to make decisions, but the person who bought him does. And because we were bought for a very high price, we ought to serve our master all the more, so that the offense from which he has bought our release may not turn us back over to death.” [The Ambrosiaster (between A.D. 366-384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles]

Therefore, glorify God in your body.

Paul’s final admonishing is brief, but revealing.  This statement presumes that God can be glorified in and through our bodies.  They are not vile, they are remarkable.  They are not worthless, they are precious.

Far from being a terrain that is morally indifferent, the area of sexuality is one in which our relationship with God is very intimately expressed: he is either highly glorified or deeply offended.  Our bodies are the means by which we touch the mysteries of God.

Gospel – John 1:35-42

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.

In our first reading, we heard of Samuel’s call to serve God. Today, in our gospel
reading, we hear of the calling of the first of Jesus’ disciples. It is only from John’s gospel that we learn that Jesus’ first disciples had originally been disciples of John the Baptist.

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, a title that reveals something of John’s own religious insight.  The designation may be based on an interpretation of the description of the suffering servant described by Isaiah (Isaiah 53:7).  The servant, though innocent of transgression, gives his life as an offering for the sins of others.

It’s uncertain whether or not the Baptist understood Jesus in this way, but the author of the gospel certainly did.

The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Note that the impetus for the disciples following Jesus is the witness of John the Baptist, rather than any direct call by Jesus.  This is an example of how John was ready to decrease so that Jesus could increase (John 3:30).

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?”

Jesus takes notice of them and speaks first.  His question is not a reprimand for their boldness in approaching him; to the contrary, it is a kind invitation.

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 

It is John’s practice to translate Hebrew or Aramaic words, suggesting that his readers may not be familiar with those languages.

“Rabbi” is the usual way of addressing a recognized religious teacher, regardless of whether he had been professionally trained.  By addressing him this way, they are signaling their respect and desire to be taught by him.

Students usually gathered somewhere for instruction from a rabbi; they are asking where the gathering will take place so that they might join the group.

He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. 

Jesus invites them to follow him, which they do.  We can understand this on two levels: they followed him to the place where he was staying, or they listened to his words and became his followers.

It was about four in the afternoon.

Literally, the tenth hour from sunrise, which was the Roman calculation of time.  Some suggest that the next day, beginning at sunset, was the sabbath; they would have stayed with Jesus to avoid travel on it.

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ). 

The Hebrew word māšīah and the corresponding Greek Khristos both translate literally as “anointed.”  At this point in Israel’s history, there were several different messianic understandings.  Since royalty, priests, and prophets were all anointed in some way, a messianic expectation emerged from each tradition.  The royal tradition expected the Messiah to reestablish the Davidic monarchy.  The priestly tradition looked for a cultic leader, while the prophetic tradition awaited a revolutionary reformer.

Andrew’s reference to Jesus as the Messiah is really an act of faith.  Whatever he has heard Jesus say convinced him that Jesus was the long awaited one.

Then he brought him to Jesus.

Andrew’s response to this encounter is to seek his brother and bring him to Jesus, to share (and perhaps confirm) this amazing discovery.

Note how intermediaries play an important role in the disciples coming to Jesus.  Initially John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus.  When Jesus invites them to follow him, it’s only after they have approached him first.  The same is true for Peter.  Andrew recognizes something in Jesus; Jesus interacts with Peter only after Andrew has brought his brother to him.

The faith of an associate is what begins one’s own journey to discipleship.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John;

The author seems to be suggesting that Jesus knew Simon’s identity, despite the fact that he was a stranger.

you will be called Kephas” (which is translated Peter).

Kephas is Hebrew for “stone” or “rock.”  No one had ever used this as a personal name before; “rock” had only referred indirectly to God, for example, as the “rock of salvation.”

The assignment of a new name would have been an indication of favor with Jesus.  This seems to foreshadow Peter’s later name change, in Matthew 16:18, when he receives his mission.

Connections and Themes

Ordinary Time is ushered in with a meditation on the call to discipleship.  This call is not reserved for a select few; it accompanies our baptismal commitment and is issued to all Christians.  The readings outline the various stages of this call and provide a sketch of some of the characteristics of each stage.

We should not be surprised that the disciples are very ordinary people.  Yet in their ordinariness they frequently act in extraordinary ways.

The basic stages of the call to discipleship are the invitation, the discerning process, and the resulting transformation.

Invitation. Discipleship is not something we take upon ourselves.  It is an invitation from God.  It might come to us in the form of an inner call, a kind of a dream, or inspiration.  Or our interest might be captured by a person or an event that first attracts us and then beckons us to investigate further.  It can come in the innocence and naiveté of childhood, in the vigor of young adulthood, or in the wisdom of years.  It comes when God calls.  We could be called during some religious event, while we are in the embrace of our family, or when we are out with our friends.  The ordinariness of the occasion can sometimes deceive us into misjudging the significance of the event.  But if we are attentive to the promptings of our heart we will be given the insight needed to recognize what is really happening; we are being called by God.

The discerning process. The second stage of the call to discipleship involves some kind of discernment that seeks to discover whether the experience is a genuine invitation or an illusion.  Most of us need help recognizing moments of religious importance.  Because these are moments when the Spirit of God breaks through, we need spiritual people to help us interpret the action of God.  We turn to the community, since the call itself comes from the Spirit of God that resides within and directs this community.  It is there that we find women and men who are practiced in the ways of God, who can help us test the spirit.  They might be recognized religious leaders or prophetic guides, or they could be friends or loved ones who know us well and who are attuned to the workings of God in their own lives.  When we are called to be disciples, we are caught up into something much larger than ourselves alone, and so we should involve other people who have been touched by God.

The resulting transformation.  The call to discipleship is a call to radical transformation.  We hear the call and we stand open to whatever God will ask of us: “Speak, I am listening.”  We follow Christ’s invitation and we launch out into a new way of life: “Where do you live?  Come and see.”  We no longer belong solely to ourselves as disciples, we belong to the body of Christ.  We belong to the reign of God; we are now part of the mission of Christ.  As disciples we are called to proclaim to the world the justice of God.  What a glorious honor this is!  There will be time during the liturgical year to reflect on the price this will exact of us.  Today, we rejoice in the fact of having been called to a radical transformation through a series of conversions.

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