The Call of Jesus
In this beautiful homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly looks at what it means to be called by Jesus. He then talks about Christian Unity.
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: First Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
Mark, in the Gospel, makes it sound so easy. Jesus, a total stranger, walks near this Sea of Galilee, and he sees two men there and he calls those two, and then two other men and he calls those two, and all of a sudden they have a community.
But it doesn’t happen like that, because, that’s the way the story is told, but if you read John and the other Gospel stories, you realise that they knew Jesus quite well, that he was really well known. He was known in Nazareth. He was known in Galilee. He was somebody who had a very dynamic personality and could not be ignored. He was known certainly among his own people.
So what we have here, though, is a synopsis, a kind of a telescoping of the beginning of Jesus’ public life.
And, of course, it begins with the calling of his Apostles.
Nobody wants you to think of this kind of calling of the Apostles as something that is very funny and obscure and one-time-only and all of that. Because once we realise that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is the Word made flesh, the one who has come to heal and save and bring us all to eternity and eternal life, all of these wonderful and amazing promises, it made the people feel, yes, the Messiah has come, the chosen one of God, he has come and we are okay now.
The reason that we must kind of look upon the story as we hear it now, is because it’s the story of our life.
The writer is not interested in what happened at Galilee, he’s interested in the people that he’s talking to, like I’m talking to you now.
Where is Jesus?
How does he call?
Have you felt him?
Where does he begin his work?
Is it that he did it once in Galilee and it’s all over?
But we know that’s not true. We’re Christians, we believe that the living Lord is with us here and now and present. He is with us, and that same emphasis, and that same energy, and with that same feeling that something must be done now, because he is among us.
And what do we do?
Well, I suppose we go to a library and study about the Bible, or we do this and we do that. But he’s talking to people who can’t read and people who can’t write, and he’s talking to people who are just ordinary, like you and me.
What does he mean by calling us?
Well, it’s very, very simple, but it’s very, very drastic.
What he is calling us is: “I want you.” “Do you want us to work with you?” “I want you.” “Do you want us to learn and be different?” “I want you.”
“And what do I have to do?”
“Leave everything, everything that’s near and dear, your treasure and it all, you’ve got to leave it all.”
“Because I want you, and I need you, and your Father needs you, God needs you.”
And you say, “Impossible! I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. I’ve got important things. I’ve got to worry about my children. I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got thousands of things that I can’t… I just can’t.”
And that’s the truth. Because what he’s asking for: “I want your life.”
What does it mean to want your life?
It means to walk with him and be with him.
It doesn’t mean to create something new. It doesn’t mean to make a big community of people who are very busy about many things.
“I want to be with you and walk with you, and I want you to share your life with me and my life with yours, and that’s what it is.”
What will happen, we don’t know. He doesn’t tell us. He doesn’t say what is going to happen in the future. He just says, “Here and now, I want you. And I’m very selfish, I don’t want to have to fight off many other people who might want you.”
If this seems cold, it isn’t, because when we decide that we want to walk with Jesus, we’re walking with the whole world. He opens up the world to us. He’s not interested in selfishness where we praise him and pray to him and love him and take care of him.
What he says is, “I want you to come with me, and together we will change the world.” That’s what he wants, together. “You’re not going to change me, I’m not going to change you, we’re going to change the world. Come follow me, be with me, love me, care for me, and in that you will find the secret.”
And what is the secret?
“That I love you, and I love these people, and I want you to be with me as we walk through life, blessed by a Father who has chosen this way to make change among us.”
But he’s not interested in politics, he’s not interested in organising, he’s not interested in these things. He’s only interested in one thing: to change the human heart.
And if you look carefully at the world in which we live, what needs to be changed certainly is not the buildings, we’ve got enough of those, or artists, we’ve got enough of those, or bankers, we’ve got even more of those. He doesn’t need…
What does he need?
What the world needs is a change of heart, a new direction, a way of reaching out so that the people that God creates fulfill what they are capable of.
And what is the one ingredient that you have to have? And it’s very simple.
You’ve got to learn to love. He’s not interested in high marks. He would say, “Do you love me?” And you say, “Well, sometimes,” or “Maybe,” or “Perhaps,” or “On Mondays and Fridays, but on the other days maybe not.” He’s not interested in that.
And his love is a very strange love.
His love is: “Oh, I feel so happy being with Jesus!” …
If you look at the lives of the saints, you’ll find that his love is a very tough love. It is reaching out. It is moving outward toward people. It is sacrificing yourself rather than looking for people to entertain you, to be with you, to make you happy.
It’s very hard?
No, it’s very easy, because you throw your life away, you see.
When I was a young man, very young, I was… I always wanted to have an ideal, something terrific, something really big. And my mother asked me, “What do you want to be?” And I knew she was trying to, kind of, find out what I would like to be, you see.
And I wasn’t ready to tell her, so I said, “A garbage man,” you know.
And she said, “A what?”
I said, “A garbage man, in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn, a lot of garbage, I can make a living.”
And she smiled and she said, “You can be a garbage man, but you’d better be the best garbage man in Brooklyn or you’re not welcome in my home.”
Now that’s a great answer, you know. Yes. It doesn’t matter what you do, but give your heart and soul to it.
Now that’s what Jesus was saying. When he’s calling he’s saying, “I want your heart, I want your soul, and you’ll never regret it, you never will.”
Now I’m going to change the subject, okay?
The subject is: today’s the beginning of the Week of Christian Unity. You know Christian Unity: we have a special week with Protestants and to bring them together, and we try to come closer and closer to each other. You do know that, don’t you? You know, every year this is Christian Unity Week.
How do we do that?
We’re not doing it too well. I mean there’s a lot of talk and we organise things and all that.
But, if you think of now what I said about Jesus, Jesus is interested only in one thing: that we bring people together.
He doesn’t care who they are. He hung around with riffraff most of his life, you know. I mean he hung around with people who were not accepted in the temple, he hung around with people who were outcasts, or poor, or needy, or these things.
So, when he speaks about us coming together with each other, those who believe, he means all of us. He means that we are to remember that when Jesus was… The night before he died, he said to his Father, my one wish is they be one.
One family, one community, one group of people who will, for once in the life of the world, will learn how to love, and care, and reach out, because only in that way can we change the world.
At this time, I’ll tell you this one last story, about Grandpa Gunther.
I had a Grandpa in… We moved down from Brooklyn, I was just a kid, I was only five years old, and we moved to Hicksville. Terrible name for a town, Hicksville. It’s still there though, very important town. And because my parents were from Ireland and neither of them brought any relatives with them, we had no relatives, we had lots of uncles and aunts of all different kinds. I had Jewish uncles, and Catholic uncles, and black uncles, and pink uncles, and…
Anyhow, Grandpa was one of my favourites, because he had big moustaches, you know. He was a true German from the old school: very strong Lutheran, and he wore this hat, and he had the moustaches, and he looked severe, but he was a lovely man and he loved me.
And so on Sundays he would come to pick me up. He’d pick me up because he didn’t think I should be going to the Catholic churches there. “No,” he said, “Denis, I’m going to bring you to a real church,” which was the Lutheran church.
Now Hicksville is seventy-five percent Lutheran and they were immigrants, but there’s some of them were two or three generations. But he was an immigrant, and he said, “No, your mother doesn’t know really how to raise children, so I’m going to take you on Sunday and bring you to a true church,” you see, which was the Lutheran church of Hicksville. Well, there were many Hicksville churches that were Lutheran churches.
Anyhow, he’d pick me up, and my mother was a wonderful lady, she just let him take this little five-year-old kid, and off he’d go with Grandpa, because she figured that it’s more important that I have a friend like Grandpa, right now, than what church you go to. I mean, Jesus is in all the churches, right? So she didn’t make a big deal out of it. This was very unique in our day. Most people, oh, they’d be scandalized: “Your son’s going to a Lutheran church.”
Anyhow, he’d take me there and we’d walk into the church and we’d go right up front and he’d sit down. And now the pastors were young pastors, so there was a little bit of a problem. The way they saw the Lutheran church was not exactly the way Grandpa saw it. He was thinking of the old and the past and everything.
So we’d be sitting there, and then the poor young pastor would deliver himself of the sermon, and then he would say something new and different that Grandpa didn’t like, so he’d look at me, I’d be next to him, and he’d say, “Denis.” I’d say, “Yes.” “Up!” I said, “Okay.” “Out!” And we’d walk out of the church together, you see, with everybody looking at us.
Well, that was okay, because I knew at the end of it he was going to buy me these lollipops which were very fashionable then. They were, they had like a ball, a ball of a kind of candy on one end. That’s a lollipop. But these had it on both ends, so you could put your little fist in the middle and you could lick here, and you could lick there, and you could put it in your ear, and you could drop it on the ground, and you’d pick it up and you’d rub it off.
And by the time I got home with this lollipop, I was a mess, you know. My mother sent me out very neat and tidy. When I got home she’d look with that kind of a, oh, nothing you can do about this, look on her face. And she’d send me into the bathroom and I’d have to get a bath, you see.
This went on for a very long time. It went on for, I would say, about six or seven months, until we ran out of churches that were Lutheran churches. And, finally, good old Grandpa, you know, he said, “That’s okay, Denis. I think we can trust your mother now, you know, with this part of it. So you can, from now on, go to the Catholic church, you know.”
Now this sounds like heresy, but it was my first ecumenical experience. Everybody’s talking about an ecumenical experience, you see, and I think that’s quite (inaudible). I had a loving grandpa, you know, who not only made sure that I was well fed with lollipops that had two sides on them, but also I was safe and he loved me, and I learned that religion and love go together.
It doesn’t matter if it was the Lutheran church, because they love too. And it doesn’t matter that I didn’t go to the Catholic church, because Jesus, somehow, was also in the Lutheran church.
Now I’m not going to enter into any kind of an argument about, you know, what’s right and what’s wrong about this thing. All I’m saying is this, and I think we’re learning it now, finally. Here’s what the Pope says. The present Pope’s a very, very good man.
He said, when Catholics and non-Catholics come together, okay, they shouldn’t try to convert each other. Yeah, don’t try to convert each other.
What are you supposed to do?
Listen to the other, and ask them about their church, and you will be enriched by these people’s faith. And then you, from your own heart, will speak about your own church, and they will be enriched by what you have to say about yours. And in the enrichment, you will come together and, perhaps, who knows what we can accomplish if we begin to approach this way with each other.
So, the best way to celebrate this week is to look at people all around you who are not Catholic, and begin to look upon them as converting you, not to religion, but to listen to them and understand, and you will learn so much about so many things, religious and non, and then you will understand.
When you can say in Chinese, all people are one family, and you can say it among Catholics and Protestants and everyone else. You’ve heard the expression, 天下一家, under heaven, one family. Now ultimately this is what Jesus came for: to make us one family.
And on this eve of celebrating the Chinese New Year, I would like to say yes, our job is always 天下一家, as well as loving all people, no matter where they’re from, no matter what they believe in, and listen to their stories that you and I might enrich ourselves.
And this is the way God saves the world.