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First reading: 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 39(40):2, 4, 7-10.
Second reading: 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20.
Gospel: John 1:35-4
Fr Brendan Byrne SJ
Before taking up readings from the Gospel of Mark for Year B, the Lectionary lingers for one more Sunday on the introduction to Jesus’ public life. The First Reading and the Gospel find a certain unity around the idea of “vocation”.
The call of the boy Samuel in the sanctuary, as told in the First Reading, 1 Sam 3:3-10, 19, foreshadows the later Christian sense of “vocation”. Samuel has been given over by his parents for service in the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with the people, resides. Twice he thinks that Eli the priest, who is old and blind, has summoned him from sleep to perform some service. Eventually, Eli realises that the Lord is calling the boy and instructs him on how he is to respond to the voice: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”. The words have become a consecrated phrase in the tradition. Readiness to serve, to place one’s entire life at the disposition of God, comes before—not after—discovering what exactly it is that the Lord is asking. Response to vocation involves a blank cheque, not a “wait and we’ll see about it” response.
In the Gospel (John 1:35-42) the Baptist acts as mentor for Jesus. He has publicly denied that he is himself the Messiah and spoken of a coming One, the thong of whose sandal he is unworthy to untie (John 1:19-27). On seeing Jesus approach him for baptism, John recognises him and starts to perform his role as witness (1:6-8, 15), pointing him out to his own disciples as the “Lamb of God”—a title the full meaning of which will only be apparent when Jesus dies on the cross as Passover Lamb, effecting salvation for the world).
The transfer of John’s disciples to Jesus occurs in a scene that at once very human and very divine. At every point a deeper meaning lurks beneath the surface. Sensing the two disciples following him, Jesus turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?” In the circumstances, the question is natural but it is in effect the question that everyone desiring progress in the life of the spirit must constantly put to themselves: “What am I really looking for? What are my deepest desires?” A vocation will not succeed unless and until it is seen to respond to a yearning in the depths of one’s being.
The disciples are also asking more than they know when they say, “Rabbi, … where are you staying?” On the obvious level, Jesus is presumably “staying” in some makeshift shelter, along with all the other people who have come to John for baptism. But, as we already know from the way Jesus has been introduced in the Prologue (1:1-18), the word translated “stay” (Greek menein) has, in this gospel, a far more profound meaning. As Son of God, Jesus “stays” or “dwells” eternally with the Father. As Word incarnate he has also “pitched his tent among us” (1:14), come to “stay” with us so that God’s power and presence (“glory”), once remotely and terrifyingly revealed to Israel on Sinai, might appear in human “flesh”—in the life-giving words and actions of Jesus.
Jesus’ response, “Come and see”, is then at one level a simple invitation to spend the day with him. In the deeper meaning of the gospel it is an invitation to a life-long “contemplation” of God in the human life of Jesus. As Jesus will later say to Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than this: … heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51). The whole sacramentality of the Fourth Gospel is here unveiled: the disclosure, to the eyes of faith, of God’s presence and power in the human Jesus. To “stay” with Jesus in this way is to come to share his eternal and life-giving “staying” with the Father, a sharing in God’s own eternal life (14:1-7, 23).
In the continuation of the reading, one of the disciples (Andrew) shares his discovery with his brother Simon. The latter receives his own call from Jesus and, with it, a new name (“Rocl”[“Peter”]) indicative of the role he is to play.
The Second Reading, 1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20, is one of those texts that gives Paul a bad name because people only hear the word “fornication”. Homilists should help people discern behind Paul’s warnings in this regard his very high evaluation of the body and life in body, based on our destiny to share the bodily life of the risen Lord.
Brendan Byrne, SJ,