CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters

Be ready and open to God’s call

  • January 9, 2015

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

How many of us are called upon by God without realizing it? Divine addresses are seldom of the dramatic type portrayed in Hollywood biblical epics. They usually lack the beams of light and angelic choirs. God’s call is often innocuous enough to be overlooked or mistaken for something else. Only its persistence sets it apart.

In those days before the establishment of the monarchy under Saul and David (roughly 1200-1000 B.C.), the Israelites worshipped at the shrine of Shiloh in Northern Israel. As yet the Israelites did not dwell in Jerusalem and there was no temple. Samuel was an “apprentice prophet” under the tutelage of Eli at Shiloh. Twice during the night Samuel heard the voice of God calling his name, but because of his ignorance of God at this point, he thought Eli was calling him. Eli sent him back to bed both times, probably with some irritation. When it happened a third time, the light went on in Eli’s mind — he knew it was God. His instructions to Samuel were specific: when you hear the voice calling you again, say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

In most conversations true listening is a rare occurrence. Usually people are thinking of witty responses or ways to one-up the other person. This even affects our prayer life — volumes of prayer directed heavenward need to be balanced with centred and peaceful listening to God. Notice that He did not advise Samuel to ask who was speaking or what God wanted. Samuel had to put himself in an attitude of passive receptivity by doing what most of us find very difficult: listening. He had to be open and ready in mind and heart rather than asking questions or trying to figure things out. These are the usual human responses and are based on fear and the desire to control. Often the message that comes is hard to bear — maybe that is why we resist. Samuel had to deliver a grim prophecy to Eli concerning his sons (omitted verses). Many in biblical history had to leave homes and family or face ridicule and persecution. When one truly listens to God, life changes — sometimes drastically.

Being open and receptive to God characterized most of the men and women of God in the Bible from Abraham to Mary. In a very noisy and frenetic world, true listening is a dying art. Christians could contribute greatly to both human relationships and our collective relationship with God by cultivating the sacred art of listening.

Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he chastised the Corinthian community for sexual immorality. He reminded them that God was not far, for they were temples of the Holy Spirit. They belonged to God and a heavy price had been paid for their redemption. The acceptable response was to glorify God with everything done in the body. Daily living itself could become a form of worship. Listening and responding to the will of God is important in all areas of our life.

The two disciples of John the Baptist felt drawn to Jesus even though He hadn’t said a word. After hearing John’s comment, they ran after Jesus, probably not sure of what to say. Jesus beat them to it with the very pointed query “What are you looking for?” This question can be read at different levels; if we ponder the question ourselves for a while it can lead us into uncharted territory. The Gospel of John’s language is always charged with layers of meaning. This was evident in their seemingly innocent question about where He was staying or abiding. Jesus used the same Greek word to command His followers to abide or dwell in Him as He does in the Father. “Seeing” in John’s lexicon means to experience and to understand. His invitation to the two disciples to “come and see” is an invitation to begin the journey of discovery and to experience God for themselves. These questions are addressed also to us.

Our search for God must be accompanied by yearning, openness of mind and heart and a willingness to go where we are led. This is another way of saying that we need to really listen and lay aside all the things we think we know.

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