The Call of Discipleship
In this excellent homily for 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly tells us Jesus is walking by all the time. He has to be stopped. He has to be followed. He has to be followed with faith.
First Reading: First Samuel 3:3-10, 19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading: First Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20
Gospel: John 1:35-42
Christmas is over. I love Hong Kong, though: you get Lunar New Year right after Christmas. It seems like, when I was young, it was a long wait after Christmas to Easter. But, in Asia, we all celebrate Chinese New Year’s, and, kind of, I look forward to it. It’s very much in keeping, though, with what happens today.
As you see, the kings have all departed and gone home. Nobody’s left in Bethlehem. In fact, it’s about twenty-eight years later that we find, in today’s Gospel, we find the beginning, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and that’s quite important to us all.
This chapter is called “the call of discipleship,” for the first thing that Jesus does is he calls people to follow him. But it’s very interesting and I think, if we go over the reading of today’s Gospel, we’ll see why.
There’s John the Baptist, who is Jesus’ cousin. We all know that. And he came out to prepare the way of the Messiah, the Lord. And he was standing there with two of his disciples. Many people followed John, and some thought that he was the Messiah, but he always denied it. He said, “One coming after me. And he will baptise with fire.” Yes.
And as he watched Jesus at this time, John the Baptist was standing there and he watched Jesus passing by.
John the evangelist, who is writing all of this, is very interesting, because he’s writing on three or four levels all the time.
Jesus walks on by. It’s kind of a catch phrase if you know the Bible very well. And now what you do is you put yourself in there with John the Baptist, and he says to you: “Jesus is walking by.”
And, of course, what he expects you to respond is, you turn and leave John the Baptist and follow. Yes? Or, you just go home and have a nice supper and go to bed.
You see, the calling of God is quite different from the calling that we do.
We make arrangements, we’ll meet at a certain place, we call you to get a job or whatever it is.
But God is so very different. Jesus walks by every day. He walks by all of us every day. He’s walking by all the time. He has to be stopped. He has to be followed. He has to be followed with faith. If you don’t have faith, you’re stupid to follow this man who is walking by.
And, very often, Jesus will walk through a city, and walk through a village, or walk through a town. And it is the thing that God wants people to come and listen and become one with his Messiah, the one who will save them and heal them. But nobody stops him, we just walk on by.
Anyhow, these two, they follow Jesus right away.
We know who the first one is: Andrew, that’s Peter’s older brother. The other one is not named, but we already know why he’s not named because the one who’s writing this is the other one, and that’s John the evangelist.
And, of course, they work in Galilee, and they came up from Galilee where they live, and they became part of John the Baptist’s disciples, in a way, awaiting for the Messiah.
And so, when he says these strange words, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” John the Baptist says as Jesus walks on by, and they follow him right away.
Because the Lamb of God is the lamb that is sacrificed at the great feast of the Passover, and represents the self-sacrifice of all the people of Israel to God Himself, you see. So it’s a Messianic title, and the two know that, so they follow him.
What do they do? Jesus turns to them, and he saw them following him, and he says, here’s the other one now, “What are you looking for?”
“What are you looking for?” Well, let’s suppose, for a minute, that you begin to feel that there’s something special about Jesus, and so you begin to follow him. What do you want from him? What are you looking for? What is it that draws you to him? Is it physical things, success, something that you yearn for? But what is it?
Now, you notice two things. You have to look into your own heart. So far, “Jesus walks by.” Do you follow him and why? Now, “What are you looking for?”
They said to him, and the two disciples said, “Rabbi.” Rabbi means teacher. It’s an honourable word. “Rabbi (teacher), where do you live?” You know, “Where do you live?”
Where does Jesus live? Up in the sky? It must be, he’s living up in the sky there, so we pray to him on our knees, and we pray up to the sky and all our prayers go up, and is that where he is?
Jesus himself says, “I am with the poor. I am with the suffering. I am with those who have no hope, no help.”
That’s another one: “He is with them.” Then it means that you must search out the poor and the needy, and the people that you know need help desperately, and you will find Jesus, you see.
But you won’t find him up in the sky, because the Incarnation means Jesus, Son of God, infleshes himself in the world. If you’re looking for him, you have to look for each other, especially the needy, especially the people that he hung around with, those that were sort of questionable, and not accepted by the ordinary people of their time.
He said to them, “I’ll tell you where I’m staying.” No, he didn’t. He said, “You come and you see.”
“You come and you see.” He’s not telling you what he is, or what you must do, or passing orders.
What he’s saying is, if you want to know me, you have to live with me. If you don’t live with me, you’ll never know me. I’m not in books. I’m not in the mouths of others. To know me is to love me, and to love me is to know me better, and to know me better is to love me more, and you’re only going to find me where I am, infleshed in the people all around you, in the world in which you live.
But he’s not telling you to do that. Why?
Because he is the Saviour of the world, he is the one who is the source of our Father’s love, he is all these things. And they’re not supposed to be talked about, or organized. What they’re supposed to be is to tease you into changing your life. You must live with him.
“Come follow me” means do not try to imitate me — I am the son of God. “Come follow me” means be my chosen companions, the ones that I love, the ones I want near me, not in a God-like way, up in the sky, but in a human way.
God has made Himself very vulnerable. God can now feel pain, feel want, feel desires, feel all these things that we take for granted.
Because God’s son takes on human flesh and is indeed one with us. You used to be able to say it’s okay for God up there, but think of all the people suffering down here.
And, all of a sudden, you see a cross. And on the cross he is man. And he’s destroyed. And everything he hoped for and hoped to gain is just taken away. And he cries out to his Father, “Forgive them they know not what they’re doing.” And that makes him our Messiah.
Out of the depths of, the edges of despair, when he had no hope as a human being except he had faith in his Father and he believed in people.
Because, remember the words, he didn’t say they’ll reform, he didn’t say anything, he just said, “Father, if you enlighten them through me, maybe they will begin to understand what it means to be a human being.”
A human being is one who loves, a human being is one who forgives, a human being is one who cares. And all of that is in this simple little gesture of the two disciples begin the walk with Jesus.
You all know the two: there’s Andrew, and there’s Peter’s brother. And so the first thing Andrew does is, he runs home and he says to his brother, these are fisherman, Peter’s out there pulling in the lines, and he says to Simon, he says: “Brother, come and see,” you see, “Come and see. We have found, discovered the Messiah, the long-awaited Messiah, the Christos” – for Christ is another word in Greek for Messiah – “We have found the Messiah.”
And he, not only that, but he brings Jesus to him. And Jesus looks at Peter and he says, “Simon, son of John, you shall be called Cephas,” and Cephas means Peter.
And what does Peter mean?
The rock. You shall be the rock on which I will found a new community, and that new community will people who will feel in their heart, my call.
For I’m not going to broadcast it, I’m not going to be on television, I’m not going to insist that you follow me. If you look for me, you will find me in your heart, and that is where I am. And listen to your heart, but also listen to your head. Because the heart without a head is dangerous, but a head without a heart is an empty, empty gourd with nothing in it except a few noisy little seeds that when you shake it, it rattles.
This is a wonderful passage, and I’m giving you just an insight. Never take the Gospels…The only way to take the Gospels is to take it very seriously and realise that the more you go into it, the deeper it becomes and the more your life takes on a new understanding, a new relationship, a new world.
And that is the meaning of today’s Gospel. Jesus comes to invite us into a new world, a new understanding, a new joy, a new pain, a new worry, a new everything. And this is what makes today’s so wonderful.
And that’s where it ends. He brought him to Jesus, Andrew did, and Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John,” that’s his real father, “but you will be called Cephas,” the rock, the beginning of the Christian community in our world.
For the next many, many, many months ahead, we will begin to see how Jesus brings people home to the Father, how Jesus walks into darkness to bring light, into hatred to bring hope in and love.
And as we go, step by step, you will notice two things: Jesus never demands, and, if you want him, you’ve got to find him for yourself. And you will only find him by questioning your own heart and longing to be one of his disciples.