by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries
New York/Paris, January 17, 2021. | Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
1st book of Samuel 3: 3b-10.19; 1 Corinthians 6: 13c-15a.17-20; Saint John 1: 35-42.
The events in today’s Gospel narrative are clear and powerful. Christ tells Simon who he really is: You will be called Peter He finds a way to accompany Andrew and another disciple of the Baptist: Come, and you will see. And to all of them, He gives a mission that penetrates all their lives and sets in motion all their capacities, as the First Reading says about Samuel: The Lord was with them, not permitting any word of theirs to be without effect.
In a few lines we see how Jesus manages to respond to what every human being is looking for, consciously or not: identity, community, and purpose.
- We often feel insecure about our identity. We all look for our identity in something outside of ourselves. Our work, our looks, our hobbies, our talents, our friends…even our astrological sign. But the reality is that most of those mirrors where we look at ourselves to find out who we are…one day they break.
- Already from childhood, we need a proper community, whether it be family, friends or classmates. A catechist once taught a fine lesson on heaven and after the lesson asked the class, “who wants to go to heaven?” every child raised their hands except one boy. The catechist looked at him perplexed and asked him, why don’t you want to go to heaven? he answered, really do but not with this crowd!
- To take an extreme example, one of the main reasons people commit suicide is that they cease to believe there is any reason for living anymore, that there is no meaning or purpose to life. So they quit, they give up.
There is no doubt that St. John the Baptist was able to know his own identity: I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’. Also, in Christ he found the most suitable company and at the same time, the meaning and purpose of his life, the reason for which to live and die: to announce to all the way of freedom that everyone was longing for.
For many of us, a false or poor idea of our identity can destroy our ability to connect with others and to seek meaning in our lives. This is the case of many people who “define” themselves as sick, or unattractive, or unintelligent.
Similarly, a flawed community can impose on us a completely distorted image of our true identity, and I can come to think that “what I really am” is addicted to a substance, an enemy of some other collective or superior to all others.
This explains why our Father Founder tells us that to be holy and to follow Christ is to progressively increase our filial consciousness. This is our true identity, and it provides us with the key to unite ourselves with God and our neighbor, and this task becomes the purpose and center of our life.
Understanding in depth the essence of something, or someone’s identity is difficult especially when the topic is as dynamic and alive as our identity. I remember that, along with a friend who later became a doctor, we dissected a frog into many parts in order to find out which organ enabled the frog to jump high and ended up…. killing the frog during the course of the investigation. We must not forget that our identity is not static, but something dynamic, which we acquire and complete progressively until its fullness in our true home.
One might wonder what the Second Reading, which speaks of lust and chastity, has to do with the message of the text of St. John that we read today. It represents a new, essential vision, in line with our identity, of moral faults. Certainly, it speaks of moral depravity because Corinth was a port city where the proliferation of the sex business was one of the greatest difficulties in living an honest life. But St. Paul does not speak, as one would expect, of the terrible spiritual, social and medical consequences of these practices, rather he refers to their incompatibility in the life of one who has begun to reveal his true identity and his real union with God, through baptism: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
We could say, without fear of error, that we are made, created -or designed- to live out poverty, chastity and obedience. True scientists would agree with this. Only those who manipulate science intend to use it to clumsily justify sin and the supposed necessity (or convenience) of giving free rein to any passion.
On the contrary, today there is a better understanding, even rationally, of the value of generosity and altruism, even without recourse to religious or spiritual arguments.
Who knows? That we need one another may be an evolutionary adaptation to enhance survival. Evolutionary biologists, not exactly fervent Catholics or supporters of the Church, like Charles Darwin and Edward O. Wilson described that, in contrast to the concept of “survival of the fittest” (of an individual), members of a group must sacrifice for one another in order for the group to survive. Examples have been described throughout nature and across species like bats, ants or primates as well as humans. To sacrifice for others, or to give to others honors that powerful, inborn drive to promote group survival.
Those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring (Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex).
We can say that the logic of the world and the logic of the Gospel are often opposed. But only the first is opposed to our nature and our identity.
Jesus’ question to John’s disciples is the first words we hear from Christ in John’s Gospel: What are you looking for? The answer to that question, truly intimate and at the same time pedagogical, would be, of course, “identity, community and meaning”. But this is the vein of the disciples’ response, which, in its original language, ” where are you staying ” would best be translated as “what matters to you” or “what you are involved in“. In truth, the question of the two disciples was very appropriate, for it expresses the need to be accompanied by a teacher to guide them in discovering their mission in the world, beyond work or social relationships.
That same attitude is what we see in Samuel, in the First Reading. He needs Eli to understand the divine will, to realize what God is asking of him. Moreover, at that moment it is night, which symbolizes the inner silence, when the divine voice can really be heard.
In addition to this silence, there is a second condition for listening to and understanding God. It is to embrace every suggestion received from the Holy Spirit. Samuel had been in the Temple of Shiloh since he was eleven years old, but today’s text tells us that Samuel was not familiar with the Lord. Doesn’t that seem strange? Of course, it cannot refer to intellectual ignorance, but to the fact that Samuel had not given himself completely to God, thus slowing down the work of the Spirit, something that undoubtedly happens to each of us
In the Bible, “to know” indicates an intimate experience. It is a convinced and unconditional abandonment in the arms of a loved one. This personal encounter requires sufficient time to welcome, to know and to acknowledge the other (Pope Francis, 14 JAN 2018). For the disciples, this results in a rich, eternal-life-giving experience of their own with Jesus such that their faith is no longer derivative of someone else’s but is now based on their own intimate relationship with Jesus.
That means that we put all our passions in their hands. Those, like hatred, envy or laziness, which are not productive, we put on the altar. Others, especially compassion, we allow him to feed, guide and transform them.
In fact, Andrew and the unnamed disciple spend at least the afternoon with Jesus, and they are changed by the time they spend with Him. We know this, because Andrew faithfully follows Jesus from that point and he rushes home to his brother Simon to say: We have found the Messiah!
The Samaritan woman does the same thing. She spends time and engages Jesus deeply, his identity is revealed to her, she is flooded by Eternal Life and she goes out to testify and to tell her fellow Samaritans to “Come and See.” They do come and they hang out with Jesus and they have a direct revelation of their own which leads them to testify: They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world’.
St. John the Baptist, in very few words, shows that he came to see clearly the identity, the community to which Jesus belonged and his mission: Here is the Lamb of God! It is difficult to say it with greater precision and in a more pedagogical way for those who listened to him… and for us.
The lamb is linked to the destruction of sin. the Baptist meant to say that Jesus will take charge of all the weaknesses, all the miseries, all the iniquities of people and, by his meekness, with the gift of his life, will annihilate them.
He had in mind the lamb associated with the sacrifice of Abraham. Isaac asked his father: The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? Abraham answered: God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice (Gen 22:7-8).
Here is the Lamb of God. It is Jesus, God’s gift to the world to be sacrificed in lieu of us, you and me, the sinners deserving of punishment.
As we progress in our vision of Jesus, it happens to us as it did to Andrew and his companions: we learn more about ourselves and if we want to return to our past of sin and mediocrity, it is at the cost of great pain and sadness.
Andrew will not only find new identity and a new community following Jesus, he will also find a greater purpose: spreading the message that God’s love is for everyone and that God’s love will turn the world right-side up. The things that are old are being made new. Things that are wrong are being made right. God is ushering in a new kingdom right before their very eyes.
And that is how the first disciples are called in John’s Gospel. It starts with a man spending an afternoon with Jesus, noticing that something in him has been transformed by spending time with Jesus, and going and sharing that with someone else. We really have Good News to share.