Blog di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA – Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa MISSIONARY ONGOING FORMATION – A missionary look on the life of the world and the church
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
Among the titles which the Bible attributes to God, there is also: he who calls. With his right hand he stretches out the heavens, calls them and “they all stand forth together” (Is 48:13), listen to his orders and fulfill their vocation, whirling in the universe and singing his praises: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the work of his hands the expanse proclaims” (Ps 19:2). Nothing and no one is anonymous before the Lord who “counts the number of stars and calls each one by name” (Ps 147:4).
The name that God gives to every person corresponds to an identity, a vocation, a mission.
Nothing intimate, nothing external to the person, nothing that looks like an election prize for a previous loyalty. Vocation is but the discovery of that for which we were created, the place we are called to fill in creation and in God’s plan. It is not revealed through dreams and visions, but it is found by looking inside ourselves, listening to the word of the Lord that is heard, not seen, which is manifested in the events and speaks through the angels who stand beside us: the brothers in charge of interpreting to us his thoughts and his will.
To correspond to the vocation does not mean to get involved in a cumbersome undertaking, externally imposed but to realize ourselves, to be faithful to our identity and, therefore, to achieve interior balance and joy.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Lord, reveal to me the name with which you have called me, before I was conceived in my mother’s womb.”
The calling of the first apostles is narrated by John in a different way from the Synoptics. The fourth evangelist, in fact, does not place the scene of the call by the Sea of Galilee, but along the banks of the Jordan River.
One day the Baptist, who was standing with two of his disciples, watched Jesus walk by and exclaimed, “There is the Lamb of God!” (v. 36). It was not the first time he called him by that name. The day before he had pointed to him in the same way and had added a solemn testimony: “I saw the Spirit coming down on him like a dove from heaven. Yes, I have seen! And I declare that this is the Chosen One of God!” (Jn 1:29-34).
Today’s passage should be read with attention to every detail and every nuance of language. John, in fact, chooses accurately the words and images.
A first particular should be noted: the Baptist was still there (v. 35), in the same place where he was the day before, at Bethany beyond the Jordan (Jn 1:28). Jesus had set himself in motion; he started his journey, he was passing. John on the other hand had stopped; he had finished his mission, that of indicating the Messiah. He handed his disciples over to Jesus and agreed to disappear: “It is necessary that he increases but that I decrease” (Jn 3:29-30).
The Greek word used by the evangelist to describe the perception that the Baptist had of Jesus is significant, emblépein. It does not mean only to stare but to look into it, contemplate the intimate of a person.
The Baptist captured the true identity of Jesus, reading his heart, and he expressed it with a rather strange image. He called him Lamb of God. He had at his disposition other images, that of the shepherd king, stern judge; the latter—according to the Synoptic—he also used it: “the one who is coming will do much more … He comes with a winnowing fan to clear his threshing floor and gather his grain into his barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out” (Lk 3:16-17). In his mind, however, nothing summed up his discovery of Jesus identity better than that of the Lamb of God.
Educated probably among the Essene monks of Qumran, he had assimilated the spirituality of his people. He knew its story and was familiar with the Scriptures. Pious Israelite, he knew that his listeners, hearing him mention the lamb, immediately understood the allusion to the paschal lamb whose blood, placed on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt, had saved their fathers from the slaughter of the exterminating angel.
The Baptist saw the fate of Jesus: he would one day be sacrificed like a lamb and his blood would take away from the forces of evil the capacity to cause harm. His sacrifice would redeem man from sin and death. Noticing that Jesus was condemned at noon of the day before Easter (Jn 19:14), the evangelist John has certainly wanted to draw this same symbolism. Indeed, it was the time when the priests began to sacrifice the lambs in the temple.
There is a second reference in the image of the lamb.
Who remembers the prophecies contained in the book of Isaiah—and every Israelite knew them very well—can perceive the call to an ignominious end of the Servant of the Lord. Here’s how the prophet describes his walk towards death: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers…he was counted among the wicked bearing the sins of the multitude and interceding for sinners” (Is 53:7, 12).
In this text, the image of the lamb is linked to the destruction of sin.
Jesus—the Baptist meant to say—will take charge of all the weaknesses, all the miseries, all the iniquities of people and, by his meekness, with the gift of his life, will annihilate them. He will not remove the evil by giving a sort of amnesty, a restoration. He will win it by introducing in the world a new dynamism, an irresistible force, his Spirit, who will bring people to goodness and life.
The Baptist has in mind a third biblical recall: the lamb associated with the sacrifice of Abraham.
While on the way to the mountain of Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice” (Gen 22:7-8).
“Here is the Lamb of God!”—the Baptist now attests. It is Jesus, God’s gift to the world to be sacrificed in lieu of the sinner deserving of punishment.
The details of the story of Genesis (22:1-18) were well known and the Baptist intended to apply them to Jesus.
Like Isaac, he is the only son, the beloved, the one who brings the wood heading to the place of sacrifice. The details added by the rabbis are applied to him. Isaac—they said—had volunteered himself; instead of running away, he handed himself over to the father to be tied on the altar. Jesus also freely gave his life for love.
At this point one wonders if indeed the Baptist had in mind all these biblical references when, twice, turning to Jesus, he said: “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29, 36).
He maybe not have but certainly he had in mind the evangelist John, who wanted to offer catechesis to the Christian of his community and to us.
In addition to that of the lamb, in today’s passage we find other significant titles directed to Jesus. The first two disciples call him first rabbi, teacher (v. 38), a not so particularly significant title. After spending a whole day with him, Andrew realizes that he is not only a great character; he reveals to his brother Simon: “We have found the Messiah.”
Then Philip speaks of Jesus as the one of whom Moses and the prophets have written (Jn 1:45) and for Nathaniel he will even be the son of God, the King of Israel (Jn 1:49).
A furtive encounter with Jesus is not enough to discover his identity. It is necessary to remain with him, spend the whole day, that is, every moment of life, in his home.
The words he addressed to the two who follow him: “What are you looking for?” (v. 38) are the first words he speaks in the Gospel of John. They are directed to every disciple who begins his spiritual journey, after someone showed him Jesus as a teacher. He must ask himself what he expects from Christ, because it could be chasing illusions and nourishing vain hopes.
In the second part of the passage (vv. 40-42) the group of the disciples began to widen. The two that went to Jesus, who saw and stayed with him, have come to a deeper understanding of his identity. Now they cannot keep to themselves their discovery. They feel the urge to share it with others.
In the Gospel of John, Andrew is the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He speaks of him to his brother Simon, and leads him to the Master. Fixing his gaze on him, he exclaims: “You are Simon, but you shall be called Cephas” (which means Rock) (v. 42).
Here emblépein is mentioned for the second time. They are the only two times in the Gospel of John that this verb is used. Before the Baptist looked into Jesus, now it is Jesus, with the eyes of God, penetrates into the heart of Peter, captures the identity and gives him the name that defines his mission. For the fishermen of the lake, Simon was the son of John, for Jesus and for God, he is called Peter, because his vocation is to be a living stone that hold church fast in the unity of faith.