The voice of God seeks all who listen

  • January 8, 2009
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Jan. 18 (1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42)

How well do we listen? Most people could stand some improvement in that area. We don’t really listen to other people as we should — so often we are thinking of something brilliant, witty or caustic to say in response. And shouting at one another is an unfortunate reality in our time. But developing listening skills has an even greater urgency in our relationship with God.

The voice of God is quiet and inviting but firm. This voice is often drowned out by the noise around us — we are a very noisy society — as well as the noise within us. We fear the voice of God — we fear punishment, judgment, unworthiness and what God may ask of us. It is easy to do what Samuel initially does — explain away the call. But if it is the call of God it will be persistent as it was in this case. Then Eli instructs young Samuel that the proper response is silence, attentive listening and an attitude of acceptance.

The call of God happens most often when we begin asking questions and seeking. When we ask to be shown the way our request will be answered. But it probably will not take the form of a voice, for experiences, inner feelings and movements of the spirit, and holy coincidences are most often the mode of divine communication. The voice of God is not for the elite, it is for all who seek with a sincere heart and for each person it is unique and personal.

Paul has often been accused of having a negative view of the body but this passage paints a different picture. Writing to his rather unruly and wild Corinthian community, he tries to convince them that Christian freedom does not mean licentiousness. He does not propose some sort of asceticism in which one struggles against the burden of a body — quite the contrary. And it is not about following a list of rules or prohibitions. Christian living is far more positive. God is not “out there” and “up there” but within the body of the believer. Since the body is the temple in which the spirit of God dwells all human activity can and should be a form of worship. To live in Christ is to pray and offer praise to God by means of the body. Since we are part of Christ’s body everything that we say and do is done in concert with the Lord. In making our ethical decisions perhaps we ask the wrong question. Perhaps it is better to ask whether the course of action we are contemplating honours or dishonours the name of God and the divine reality that dwells within us. 

John’s interpretation of the call of the apostles differs considerably from the other three Gospels. Instead of Jesus seeking out and calling the apostles, here they seek and find Him. Even Peter’s renaming is at the very beginning of the Gospel without any confession of faith on Peter’s part. In John’s Gospel the words and phrases are freighted heavily with different levels of meaning. A seemingly simple question from Jesus — What are you looking for? — is meant to provoke the readers to direct the question at themselves. It is a question we should ask ourselves often.

One can pursue religious or spiritual goals for a variety of reasons, not all of them noble and pure. Their response is equally ambiguous: Where are you staying? This is more than a request for an address for the Greek word that means to dwell or remain. It is the same word Jesus will use in chapters 14 and 15 when He urges His followers to remain or abide in Him. And as we continue to read through the Gospel it will become clear where Jesus abides: in the Father. Jesus issues an invitation to the two seekers but also to us: come and see.

In John’s vocabulary, seeing meant understanding and experiencing for oneself. That is the treasure to be found in John’s Gospel: the invitation to have one’s doors of perception cleansed by the Spirit and to begin to know and experience God in this life. But nothing happens unless we heed the call and begin the journey.