Sunday Readings: The Call to Contemplation

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

1 SM 3:3b-10, 19; PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; 1 COR 6:13c-15a, 17-20; JN 1:35-42

This weekend is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – but it is really our first “ordinary” Sunday, since the “First Sunday” is the Baptism. Last Sunday we completed our Christmas cycle of meditating on who Christ is. Now we set out on our way.

This year, “Year B,” we read Mark’s Gospel. But because Mark’s Gospel is short, we also get lots of commentary from John’s Gospel. That is what we read this Sunday.

John, we have said, is almost like a commentary on the other three “Synoptic” (or “look-alike) Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke begin the action with John the Baptist in the wilderness, then the call of Peter and his brother Andrew: “I will make you fishers of men.”

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John gives us a commentary, taking us deeper. First, he unites the two scenes:

“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.” The call of the fishermen is through the mouth of the Baptist.

The disciples “follow the Lamb” – it’s a phrase John will use elsewhere. John gives us many meditations that teach us the meaning of this name. The Lamb is the one who is slain, the sacrificial victim. And the Lamb is the one who hears the voice of his master and follows. Jesus is the one who goes where his Father calls. The disciples who follow – follow – become lambs of the Lamb, obedient to the obedient one, looking for the green pastures where he lies down.

What rich insight John adds to their call!

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Then he tells us what Simon and Andrew said. Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they say, “Teacher, where are you staying?”

This is another of John’s favorite words: “remain.” To really appreciate John, you have to discover that there are many English words translating the same rich Johannine Greek word. The “many rooms” – King James had “mansions,” which gets the re-main element – in the Father’s house are not rooms, they are “dwelling places,” “places where we can remain.” At the Last Supper John himself will dwell on Jesus’s breast. In his first letter, he will tell us to “dwell,” or “remain,” or “abide” in our Baptism.

John calls us to contemplation. But the image is so tangible: here, Peter and Andrew “stayed with him that day.” They dwelled with him, remained. Just to “be” and to “be with.”

And John has Jesus giving Peter his name, “the rock,” here. Not in action, but in contemplation. If he is “fisher of men,” it is because he is first the one who spends time “dwelling” with Christ. In fact, John has Andrew as the first apostle: he finds Peter and “brought him to Jesus.” What a fabulous description of evangelization: to bring people to Jesus. And “Jesus looked at him.” Dwelling. Remaining.

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The first reading, the call of Samuel, gives one element of this. The prophet hears a call, but he doesn’t know what it is. As if all of us are hearing a voice beckoning to us, calling our name. But “Samuel was not yet familiar with the Lord.” He didn’t know the meaning of that call.

The solution was a prayer, one of the great prayers of the Bible: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Divine intimacy. To learn that the incessant call we hear is the call to listen to Him – to dwell with him, heart to heart, cheek to cheek, mouth to ear.

(Let me add that the Tradition is insistent: above all, we hear the Lord speak through Scripture. His voice is there, his word is written. But intimacy demands that we listen!)

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In our reading from First Corinthians, we get another angle on this intimacy. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . Avoid immorality.”

The word, as the context (and the Greek) makes clear, is specifically about sexual immorality. But there is richness in applying it more broadly too.

What is the heart of Christian morality? Social consequences? “Natural law”? Obedience? Look: those things matter. But they matter because of divine intimacy: because we dwell with Christ.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” “You have been purchased at a price.” “Whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.”

In these many ways, Paul calls us to think about morality about all in terms of union with Christ. Let us never allow “moralism” to take the place of that contemplative “dwelling.” Divine intimacy: that is the call.

Is there space in your life simply to be near Christ? How could you increase that space – that “dwelling place”?

eric.m.johnston

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