2nd Sunday Ordinary time. 1-14-18
We begin our readings in the middle of the story of Samuel. Who is Samuel, how does it matter; and why is he sleeping in the temple next to the Ark of God? The answers are found by returning to the 1st chapter of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah, and Hannah. Peninnah was very proud that she had given Elkanah several children. She purposely teased and taunted Hannah and upset her by bragging about the children. Hannah was unable to have a child, a cause of social disgrace in that culture. Children were a measure of a woman’s worth.
One day Hannah went into the temple to pray. She was weeping and moving her mouth in silent prayer. The Priest, Eli, thought she was drunk and scolded her. She told him that she was not drunk, but upset. Then Eli blessed her and later she had a son, who she named Samuel. (Hannah’s desire for a child is very like the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.) Then Hannah prayed in thanksgiving, saying, “My heart exults in the Lord….I rejoice in thy salvation. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.” (It is a prayer that is very much like Mary’s Magnificat.)
When he was old enough, Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to stay with Eli, so that Samuel could learn the ways of God and grow up in God’s presence. The Jews of that time believed that the Spirit of God lived in the temple, and filled the Ark of the Covenant. What better place for the boy to sleep than next to the Ark?
Eli’s sons, who were to succeed him as Priest, were disobedient to God and their father. But we are told that “the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” (Luke’s Gospel tells us that after the boy Jesus talked with the teachers in the temple, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”)
When Eli finally understood that God was speaking to Samuel, he taught him to say, “Speak for your servant is listening.” Those words are carried into our Psalm. In Psalm 40 we read, “Sacrifice or offerings you wish not, but ears open to obedience you gave me….so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight.” And the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jesus as reciting this Psalm this way, “I have come to do your will, O God.” John’s Gospel has repeated instances when Jesus listened to God.
So Samuel’s story has elements that are very familiar. The Gospels draw on the stories from Jewish history to give us the message that Jesus was indeed “The One Who was to Come”. The people who first read these Gospels knew by this that Jesus was the Messiah.
So the 1st reading and the psalm prepare us for the Gospel. It is like the difference between saying to a child, “Here’s your milk”, and taking a child to a dairy farm, where they can see and touch a cow, hear it moo, and watch as the milk comes from the cow into the tubes to the tanks where it is pasteurized and perhaps chocolate added. That brings about understanding for the child. We need an understanding of some of the many ways the Jewish scriptures are not separate, but very connected to the New Testament. We see patterns that are not yet complete, and we have a sense of anticipation about the message of Jesus, the Messiah.
John the Baptist heard the message, and he foretold the coming of the Messiah. He did the will of God when he baptized Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The next day, where our reading picks up, he said it again. It initiates a chain reaction which changed the course of history. Two of John’s disciples heard him, Andrew and John (we think), and they immediately followed Jesus. It must have been a scene permanently engraved in John’s memory, because he even records the time of day. The implication is that staying that long with Jesus is a sign that the men were dedicated to remain with Jesus. From there, the excitement spread to Peter and beyond.
This is different from the calling of the disciples in the Gospel of Luke. Remember, John is not writing to preserve a step-by-step historical record of the events as our culture might expect. John is instead writing to explain who Jesus was, to reveal the character and motive of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. Still, John’s rendering of his joining Jesus at this time is supported by Peter’s remark in Acts 2:21-22. Peter wants to fill Judas’ place with someone “who accompanied us beginning from the baptism of John.”
The verb “follow” and the directive “follow me” appear 4 times in 6 verses, and many other times in the Gospels, don’t mean to just to walk along with. It is a much deeper connection. Notice that Jesus initiates the conversation. Jesus has come to earth to save the lost. Jesus does not hesitate to get to the heart of the issue; he asks, “What are you looking for?” These men would not have been disciples of John the Baptist if they had not been seeking a fuller life with God – something deeper than just living and then dying. “Where are you staying?” is a desire to know Jesus fully. His response, “Come, and you will see” conveys that he is open to their questions and offering a challenge to their faith.
This scene introduces us to many of John’s key words. “Coming” to Jesus is to have faith; “seeing” Jesus is to understand his message. As Fr. Raymond Brown, one of the primary authorities on John, puts it, “If the training of the disciples begins when they go to Jesus to see where he is staying and stay on (abide) with him, it will be completed when they see his glory and believe in him.” All this adds to our understanding of the scriptures.
But what do we do with it on Monday? Fr. John Pilch writes that this gives us a highly successful pattern for telling others about Jesus: (1) A believer in Jesus (John the Baptist) tells someone (his disciples) about Jesus and (2) he uses a special title of Jesus (“Lamb of God”). (3) The believer shows that person Jesus (in acts or words). (4) Jesus then calls the newcomer and brings them to faith.
We, then, are to live honest and true lives for all to see. When people ask us why we act this way, we can share our faith. When people around us get discouraged or mired in bad choices and we respond with compassion, or when we are generous to those in need, we give people who watch us reason to believe what we say. When we are in conversation, opportunities arise to explain why we go to church and believe in God. We can speak of our faith with confidence and pride, and answer questions about our beliefs. The Holy Spirit will intervene with a gift of understanding and love. This has always been the primary way of sharing faith, person to person, and will likely remain the primary way for Christianity to thrive and flourish. Someone tells us, we go to Jesus, see where he is, and stay with him to see his glory.
The readings today are about calling. First we heard the call of Samuel. Even the older prophet Eli did not realize God was calling until the third time and so Samuel answered on the fourth call. In the gospel, we see the call of the Apostles first inspired by John the Baptist pointing to the “Lamb of God” and the person of Jesus leading them to ask what he was doing. I say doing because where are you staying is exactly what they meant. They meant what are you about. In our own way we all have been called through our baptism by way of our parents. I also submit that in our lives, we have at times answered Christ’s call as we have lived out our life in the choices we have made, especially at key moments in our life. It is at those moments when we prayed, thought or ultimately opened our hearts to listen, to discern what was right, what was God’s call for me. That is the key to hear and listen to God’s word and how it affects us. I must say that sometimes that call says what we don’t want to hear, but ultimately listening and acting in accordance with that call usually brings us to a comfortable result, one that eases our life’s burdens. The hard part is discerning God’s intention especially if it entails a change in our life that we perceive as difficult. God calls many to serve and in various ways, Most of us will never be asked to travel to far away places, but in today’s world we are called to help and reach out to the starving and homeless of the world as best we can. We are asked to live and act toward others as Christ did. As a community we do that in many ways and I encourage our community to continue and listen as we begin this new year.
Today’s feast of the magi is only found in Matthew. It is a tradition coming from the east and is a manifestation or appearance of Christ followed by his appearance with John the Baptist. The readings and the feast are a contrast if innocence and evil of darkness and light. This feast was joined with the season of Christmas when that feast came about. First we see the magi following the light or the star looking for the new king to be born. Once they met Herod, they found a man who in his actions and relating to strangers would seem suspicious in his trying to be overly secretive in finding the king the magi sought. His jealousy and evilness show through his actions and certainly made there dream to go home a different way much easier. Plus, we should add that the meeting of the child must have been an experience rewarding the journey they made and the innocence of their pursuit.
Today, our world has changed in many ways, but some have remained the same or gotten worse. Innocence and evil still coexist, or the darkness of evil still works at extinguishing the light of good things. Christ came to bring his kingdom and light to the world, but it is still up to us to avoid the darkness. Certainly none of us is perfect, but we can work at looking out for each other. We can do this by being conscious that darkness lurks around us always. On the other hand, let us not forget the loving community and family and friends around us. Let us always remember, that when we see something wrong, that like the magi, we can chose to take a different way.
Holy Family, 12-31-17
Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Psalm 105: 1-9, Hebrews 11: 8, 11,12,17-19; Luke 2: 22-40
We read today from the 2nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke makes Jesus the focal point to explain the loving and generous ways of God. Luke frequently uses the title “Lord” for Jesus. “Lord” is the same name used for God in the Greek Old Testament. Jesus, Luke tells us, is God come to earth. Jesus came to all people. Luke takes great effort to relate how Jesus brought salvation to the poor, women, children, “sinners”, and outcasts (like the Samaritans).
In fact, two of Luke’s favorite expressions are “preach the gospel” and “salvation.” “Preaching the Gospel” includes the entire ministry of Jesus- his teaching, healing, and compassion were all part of the good news that God has come to His people. “Salvation” is defined in Luke 19:10 this way: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Too often Christians use this word but aren’t so sure what it means. The words salvation and “Savior” both come from the same Latin word (salvare), which means to save. The basic idea of being saved or salvation is that God will “find and free” us from any kind of evil, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God frees us to fully participate in all the goodness of life and in all the blessings of God. It makes sense then that God wishes to save us from sin as well as the evils that are the consequences of sin. Jesus acts as the “middle man” or mediator who suffers and dies to bring us this salvation both now and in eternal life.
So, with that long introduction, we begin with the Jewish ritual purification of Mary, when a sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons was offered 40 days after the birth of a child, as required by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. The mother is welcomed back into the community after the birth.
A second ritual was also completed, that being the “redeeming” of a first born child. All first born children – and animals, for that matter – were presumed to belong to God. Children were “bought back” with a small offering of money. You can find that Law in Exodus 13:13. God-fearing parents of every century feel the need to thank God for the miracle of a child. It’s a tradition that makes great sense. The parents publically proclaim the child is theirs, as a gift from God, and they will support, nurture, teach, and raise the child in the faith. These traditions introduce the infant to the worship of God in the community of believers, not unlike Christian infant baptism.
This scene with the infant Jesus also underlines the larger idea of redemption. For Christians, redemption is closely tied to salvation. Marie Monville wrote this: “To redeem means to exchange one thing for another, to buy back, to recover the value of something by exchanging it for another. God replaces…weakness with his strength, the ugliness of sin with the beauty of forgiveness, the blackest darkness with his brilliant light.” It is sort of like redeeming something in a pawn shop! In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, St. Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price”. That is the Catholic view of the crucifixion – that the price Jesus paid for us to be redeemed and freed from sin was his own life.
Two significant messages are then delivered by Simeon and Anna. Simeon, a “righteous and devout man” was looking for the “consolation of Israel” – meaning the salvation which the Messiah was to bring. Messiah is an Aramaic word meaning “liberator”, which means the same as “Savior”. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah, and now he proclaims that he has seen the Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not only the Jews. Simeon says, “…my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” God has kept his promise to Simeon, to the prophets (Isaiah 49:6), and to King David.
Simeon offers a blessing of thanksgiving to God and a blessing of prophecy to Mary and Joseph. Out of Simeon’s mouth comes a very precise statement of the miracle of Jesus: the child brings peace and the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled. In addition, Jesus is the entrance of God into the world for all people; he is a revelation and light (new understanding). Jesus will bring salvation and judgment; he will bring lasting changes to the world, and the changes will result in a strong push-back from the darkness in the world.
One of the unique traits of Luke’s Gospel is that he often introduces a strong man counterbalanced by a woman. Luke names this woman, which is highly unusual in writings of the day; we actually have more information about Anna than Simeon. We know her age, her father’s name and her tribe. Luke tells us that Anna, like Simeon, was very devout, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” She too said a prayer of thanksgiving for the child Jesus and, like the shepherds, immediately “spoke of (Jesus) to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna’s waiting is over, her patience has been rewarded, and then she participates in the preaching of the Gospel.
As always, God chooses us (all) and provides what we need to be in a personal relationship with our Creator. We are offered freedom from slavery to sin and darkness, the price has been paid, and we must act on our choice. That is one reason we have all those Bible characters who are flawed and foolish; we read about them stumble and fall, then ask for forgiveness and return to right relationship (what Christians call righteousness) with God. And people who experience this freedom want to share it with others. Amazing – all this from just a portion of the 2nd chapter of Luke!