January 18th 2015 (B) Second Sunday of the Year

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection and Dialogue: Each reading presents material for reflection.

Introduction to the readings: In the Sunday liturgy the Advent and Christmas seasons have ended, and with the Baptism of the Lord the season of the Sundays in Ordinary Time begins. The Baptism of the Lord is reckoned as the first Sunday of this cycle, and today the Second. This year is the second of the Three Year Sunday Liturgical Cycle, with the Gospel of Mark, the Second in canonical order, as Sunday readings. However, today’s reading is not yet from Mark’s Gospel, but is influenced by the traditional view of the Epiphany as a triple manifestation of Jesus – by the Magi at the Epiphany, by his Father from heaven at the Baptism, and by Jesus himself at Cana, when Jesus himself revealed his glory. Before the recent revision of the Sunday lectionary, the Gospel text with the miracle at Cana was always read on the Sunday after the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, but in the Three-Year Cycle only in the third year. The other two Sundays, one and two, have a reading from John’s Gospel with a text on a manifestation or revelation of Jesus. In today’s reading John the Baptists reveals Jesus to two of his followers, before Jesus’ public ministry begins.

First Reading (1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19). Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. This passage has been chosen for today’s liturgy to accompany the Gospel reading on the revelation of Jesus by John the Baptist, and it goes well with it. In both of these readings we are at the beginning of a new age, the age of prophecy in this reading and of a new age with Jesus in the Gospel text. Prophets were part of the entourage of kings and certain dignitaries in ancient Israel and its surrounding neighbours. Prophets in the ancient sense of the word were believed to have the ability of contact with the unseen world. These prophets are to be distinguished from the charismatic, canonical, prophets such as Isaiah and others, the distinction being that these earlier prophets did not have the “word” of God. The God of Israel was not speaking to his people through them. In one sense this began with Samuel. As the verse immediately preceding today’s passage in the Bible puts it: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread”. Thus it was that when the Lord called on Samuel twice, Samuel did not recognize what was taking place. As the text puts it: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him”. The boy, and later the public figure, Samuel came to know the Lord, to have a personal acquaintance with him, and the Lord continued to reveal himself to Samuel, and the word of Samuel, we are told, came to all Israel, and the Lord was with him and none of his words fell to the ground. A new age had begun with regard to prophecy in Israel, as a new one will begin with Jesus.

Turning from this liturgical context to the background on the text in the Bible, we may note that Samuel belongs to an important era in his people’s history. His mother, Hannah, was sterile and prayed for a son, who was given to her in Samuel, She offered him to the Lord at the sanctuary at Shiloh, where this episode is set. During his long lifetime Samuel played a central role in the history of his people. He came at the end of one era and the beginning of another, as Israel passed from being ruled by charismatic figures, known as judges, to rule by kings and the establishment of monarchy. Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king, and later David. Samuel was both judge and prophet, with the power to anoint kings and changed dynasties.

Responsorial Psalm (39[40). Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20). Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is both an extremely important and interesting writing, supplying us with very valuable information on relations between that Church and their founding apostle. The first part of this letter was read in last year’s Sunday liturgy and the second part of it will be read during the coming five Sundays. Paul was in dialogue and correspondence with this church which he had founded just five or six years earlier. In the section of the letter from which today’s reading is taken some pastoral questions are being discussed, arising from information at Paul’s disposal and from questions put to him by the Corinthian community, for instance the immoral behaviour of one of their members who was living with his father’s wife (not his own mother), lawsuits among believers, sexual matters, and an understanding of freedom with regard to one’s body, the option for marriage or celibacy, the unmarried and widows, the partaking of food offered to idols.

With regard to sexual matters, Jewish teaching and practice were clear, and possibly rigid. Matters were quite different in the Greek and Roman pagan world, and the Corinthian community would have questions on such matters for their apostle. There was a danger that they would apply the principle of Christian freedom to sexual matters, possibly with the aid of such hints found in the text, like slogans such as “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”, as if indulging in sexual behaviour was a matter of moral indifference. In today’s reading Paul stresses that such is not the case, with regard to the body, sex and immoral sexual behaviour such as fornication. The body of the believers is sacred, having the Holy Spirit dwell in it. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It belongs to the Lord. It is not one’s own to be used at will. Paul gives various examples to stress the holiness, the sacred character, of the believer. Fornication is a sin against that holiness, and Paul gives a strict warning to the Corinthian Christians to shun fornication. In doing so he takes a strong stance against a practice that would have been well known to the Corinthian believers before they came to belief in Christ and to recognize its implications.

Gospel (John 1:35-37). They saw where he lived, and stayed with him. This passage from the Gospel of John shed s an interesting light on the call of the first disciples of Jesus, one not quite the same as that which we know from the three Synoptic Gospels, where the first disciples are called at the Sea of Galilee. In today’s reading we are by the Jordan, and the text read notes that the day was after that of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. We are told that John was standing there with two of his disciples, one of whom is named as Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. We are not given the name of the other disciple. Possibly he was the Beloved Disciple. The Baptist refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God, with a possible reference to the lamb to be led to the slaughter of Isaiah and the Passover lamb. The two disciples leave their former master John to follow Jesus. To a question from Jesus they reply by asking Jesus where he is staying, to which he replies: “Come and see”. They came and saw and remained with him that day. These are a few simple words, but full of meaning when reflected on in the overall contexts of John’s Gospel. To come to Jesus is to believe in him, and later in the Gospel Jesus Jesus will invite his followers, and others, to come to him, and to stay with him, to dwell with him. For the author of this Gospel this was an important occasion, and he gives us the exact time at which the event occurred, about the tenth hour, that is 4 p.m.

Another episode follows this initial one. Andrew takes his brother Simon to Jesus, saying to him that he had found the Messiah (a Hebrew and Aramaic word meaning “Anointed”, translated in Greek as “Christ”). Simon (Peter) was thus in the company of the Baptist’s disciples at the Jordan before becoming a follower of Christ. On seeing Simon Jesus tells him that he will have a new name, Cephas, an Aramaic word to be translated as “Rock”, in Greek and Latin “Peter”. Simon son of John (or Jona) will be given that new name by Jesus after he had made profession in him as the Messiah, son of the living God, at Caesarea Philippi.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Each reading presents material for reflection.

1. Doubt about God at the beginning of a new age, but God still speaking. Samuel lived at the end of one era and at the beginning of another. The young boy Samuel did not know God, at least in the personal manner in which God would speak with him later. In the new age in which we live there are many young people, and others besides, who have no knowledge of God, of Christ or of the Church. Yet we can presume that God is speaking to them in their innermost being. Many obstacles come between persons in this situation and a knowledge of God, and rejection of religion is not necessarily one of them. It is not easy to know how a knowledge of the message of the good news could be brought to these. How establish dialogue could be a subject for reflection. One can always pray to God on the issue, of course.

2. Vocations for the priesthood and the religious life. God still calling. The episode of the young Samuel in the sanctuary and his reply to God has traditionally been part of the tradition of the Church when discussing the question of vocations for the priesthood and religious life. Samuel set the example in his reply: “Speak. Lords, for your servant is listening”. For some time past, in Ireland as in the old world, there has been a noticeable decrease in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Jesus himself told his disciples that the harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few. They should, consequently, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. His words hold true for us today. But, as the Irish saying goes, the Lord likes a helping hand, and together with prayer individuals and communities might reflect as to how encourage and promote vocations for the priesthood and religious life in today’s world. The Church is the poorer for this decrease in vocations. When stressing vocations to the priesthood and religious life, taking inspiration from Samuel’s reply to the Lord, the central role of the laity in the Church is not being forgotten. All that is being said is that the other vocations in question deserve our attention and prayers in the present situation.

3. Our bodies are sacred. Fornication is to be shunned. It is not necessary to dwell on this theme here, which has been the subject of reflection and of dialogue between the Church and the secular world over centuries, and more especially in our own day. There will be further discussion on the issue within the Church in the upcoming Synod on the family and the moral questions related to it, due to take place in the autumn.

4. An invitation to come to Jesus and dwell with him. The passage read in today’s gospel gives us a foretaste of the stress Jesus lays in the Fourth Gospel of the importance of “dwelling”, abiding, with him. In the passage read in today’s Gospel Jesus invites followers of John the Baptist to come to where he dwelt and to see. They came and remained with him that day. Later in this same Gospel Jesus will say to his disciples: “Abide in me as I abide in you”. “As has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love”. We continue to dwell in Jesus, and he in us, by faith in him and in the Father, and in the love for our brothers and sisters.

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