Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, "Being Called", 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 1/15/2012, Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ




Richard J. Clifford, S.J.

Today’s Scripture readings are about call, being called. We are all called, though perhaps not in the way we ordinarily think of or even like. I remember parking my car in what I thought was an empty parking lot, until I heard a fiercelooking man “call” (he actually yelled), “Hey, bud, move that car or I call the tow truck!” Waiting at the deli counter at Market Basket in Somerville, I customarily take a number and wait until the deli man calls out “Number 61!” As I said, we are all called, but not always in a profound way.

But there are other calls in our lives–most of them more serious than being told to move our car or that we now can order at the deli counter. There are, for example, phone calls we get in the course of our work and invitations to social events. And then there are life-changing calls, like the ones were just read in today’s readings.

These calls are worth pondering, but be forewarned, such calls can change our life. Let us start slowly--with the call of a very small boy, Samuel. It was a time of political chaos lack of good government. It was a low point in the history of the nation and a low point, too, in the life of a woman named Hannah. Though her husband loved her, she could not bear a child. She prayed and God heard her prayer. So delighted was she to bear a child that she donated him in advance to the service of the shrine of the Lord. So Samuel was brought as a young boy to serve there under the direction of the pious old priest Eli. Something big was about to happen in Israel and this little child was to play a major role. God chooses the unlikely person.

One night the little boy heard a call. Thinking it was the old priest, he got up and came to him. But Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to sleep.” But Eli was smart enough to suspect it was the Lord calling. “If it happens again,” he told Samuel, “reply, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” The call came again, using Samuel’s name: “Samuel, Samuel!” Only when Samuel hears his own name can he reply with the response that has been remembered over the centuries,

“Speak, Lord, for servant your is listening.

The little boy Samuel prepares us to understand the call of Jesus. We are at the beginning of the church’s liturgical year, so the readings again and again show us Jesus appearing on the scene for the first time. We experience him anew, hear his gospel afresh. He calls disciples to be with him, to learn from him, and to assist in his preaching and healing. This is the situation at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. Jesus calls his first disciples as his mission begins. There are similarities to the Lord calling the boy Samuel many centuries before.

The Fourth Gospel opens, as do the other gospels, with John the Baptist. And John points to Jesus rather than to himself: “Behold the Lamb of God,” is a reference to Jesus as the lamb sacrificed to take away sins; it is also a reference to the suffering servant of Isaiah. But when the two disciples (Andrew and his brother Simon Peter) look at Jesus, he does not call them. Instead, he asks them a question:

“What are you looking for?” Their answer is “Rabbi!” It is the least satisfactory term for Jesus, but the term is all they are capable of at point. They will next call him “messiah,” descriptive certainly, but not still not fully adequate. But now there is a shift and it is Jesus who does the naming. “You are Simon, the son of John; you will be called Cephas.”

Jesus knows Simon Peter’s name and he changes that name. That is equivalent to calling him, for our name expresses who we are, how we express ourselves to the world. Simon Peter’s name change means a change in his purpose.

As will later be said, he will go from being a fisherman to being a fisher of people. What happens next is not in today’s gospel, but is helpful to know. The next day Jesus decides to go to Galilee (he was in southern Palestine where John the Baptist was). There he meets Philip to whom he says, “Follow me!” Philip goes off and finds his friend Nathaniel to whom he says Jesus is the one predicted by Moses. Nathaniel is skeptical: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus tells Nathaniel something about his life that stuns Nathaniel and makes him ready to hear the call.

Note what has happened. Jesus calls one person and that person reaches out and calls a friend or neighbor. The call is contagious.

What exactly is the call? First of all, Jesus is rebuilding Israel, the twelve tribes. He initially calls twelve people. It is non-repeatable event, happening only in the beginning, but it serves as a model for the church. Jesus calls each one of us to be a disciple, that is, to receive his teaching about the kingdom and to imitate his way of relating to God and neighbor.

Notice what Jesus does. He knows our name, and in a sense, his knowing it changes our name. His knowing us makes us different. Later, in the gospel of John,

Jesus will declare that the Good Shepherd knows us by name, but the wicked shepherds do not. That statement will come dramatically true when Jesus, after the resurrection, meets Mary Magdalene in the garden. She does not know the figure standing before her is Jesus; she thinks he’s the gardener. It is only when he calls her by her name “Mary” that she recognizes him and cries out “Rabboni” which means teacher.

I want to end with a prayer: From our earliest days, O God, you call us by name. Make our ears attentive to your voice, our spirits eager to respond, that having heard you in Jesus your anointed one, we may draw others to be his disciples.

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