Sunday, January 15, 2012

The readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time are about God’s call, but even when God's call is direct it seems to need friends to make sense of it. The Prophet Samuel lives in the Temple at Shiloh with Eli, for he was promised to the Lord’s service by his mother Hannah, and one night he begins to hear a voice and thinking it is Eli, he runs to ask him what he wants. This happens three times before Eli, not Samuel, perceives who is speaking to Samuel. Samuel does not understand the source of the call because “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7). This is an interesting description because the voice is indeed God being revealed to Samuel, even if he does not know it, so the revelation functionally has taken place. What it takes is Eli to understand whose voice it is, to identify the call as from God, even though he has not received the revelation. It is Eli, then, who helps Samuel interpret God’s call: “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' “So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 9-10).

Samuel needed someone to verify that he had heard the word of God and to encourage him to listen. Prior to Eli’s advice, interestingly, Samuel had heard the voice and had responded immediately to the voice, but Eli says when you hear it say that you are listening. Even as direct a revelation of God’s voice and call to Samuel needed the aid of an interpreter and a willingness to slow down and listen carefully. The most intimate of religious visions and calls must, it seems, be shared with friends.

The Gospel passage from John also indicates a call from God, but in this case it is not God who calls out directly to others, but a man, John the Baptist, who recognizes God in their midst and calls out his presence. The whole passage is as follows:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed ). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter ) (John 1:35-42)

I have this picture of John  leaning up against the wall of a downtown drugstore, dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt and a black leather jacket, like some sort of ancient James Dean or Marlon Brando, surrounded by his gang, crew, pack, posse, entourage, whatever they called it back then, as Jesus walked by. Disciples, I know that's what the crew was called back then, and John did not wear jeans and a t-shirt, but “clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). He did, though, you should note, wear leather.  This picture emerges, however, from how cool John is in letting his disciples leave to follow the call of Jesus, which he himself identifies for them. The coolness of John’s acknowledgement is not just that Jesus is the Lamb of God, but that he wants them to hear God's voice in Jesus as he already has.

This recognition emerged from John the Baptist’s own experience with Jesus (John 1: 29-34), but the term he uses to describe Jesus is fascinating. Many years ago the late biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias noted that the Aramaic word which underlies “lamb” (amnos) in Greek is probably Talya. This word had a range of meanings in Aramaic and could mean lamb/kid, but also child or servant. Jeremias hypothesized that the Synoptic Gospel authors made a choice to focus on Jesus, the Talya of God, as “child/son and servant” of God, which could be translated by one Greek word, pais. John, however, to focus on Jesus as “lamb” of God could not use pais and so had to utilize amnos. (For a complete discussion of this term, please see Let the Little Children Come to Me, 47-50.)

The Gospel of John recognizes an aspect of Jesus which is implicit in the original term used to describe him, but when John the Baptist originally identified him he would have said, “the Talya of God” – the child/son, servant, lamb of God. His disciples knew that this was the Messiah. It took John the Baptist’s eyes and words to open up his own disciples to the reality of God in their midst in Jesus. It also took his surpassing ability and willingness to let his disciples go; he let go of his own need for his gang to stick with him, but directed them subtly to follow and join the one greater than him just by saying, “there he is.” It was up to them to follow and they did.

What is interesting, of course, is that when they do follow, Jesus recognizes them. This is how Peter gets to be Peter, “the Rock” – genuine nicknames only come from people who know you and love you. Once Peter recognizes God, God recognizes him. It was the same with Samuel, “as Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19). These words which do not “fall to the ground” could be Samuel’s words or they could be God’s words, but is there any difference? Once, with the help of friends, we listen and recognize God’s call in our lives, he is with us. It is Jesus' goal that we be friends in this manner, for the call is known amongst friends even when we do not understand it or identify it: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15).

John W. Martens

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