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JANUARY 15, 2012: SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

I Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
I Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42

Both today and next week's first and third readings contain one of Scripture's most important pieces of literature: call narratives. Since Scripture's original readers were convinced they were especially called by God, these narratives were intended to provide them with some insight into the implications of that call.

Our I Samuel passage zeroes in on two important aspects of being called. First, God can (and does) call the most unlikely individuals. Second, what should be our immediate response to such a call.

Samuel is a mere child, so young that the sacred author must defend the boy's confusion in pinpointing the caller: "At that time Samuel was not familiar with Yahweh, because Yahweh had not revealed anything to him as yet." Were I Eli the priest, I might be justifiably jealous that God's calling this child and not me. Yet, after the almost comic routine of mistaken identity, Eli is honest enough to instruct the boy about the proper procedure to follow when one receives such a divine call. "If you are called, reply, 'Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening.'"

Listening is essential when it comes to biblical and personal calls. I must always anticipate that God is actually calling me. I, like many of you, was brought up in a church in which emphasis was placed only on calls to the priesthood or religious life. I remember one teacher assuring us, "If you don't receive a call to be a priest or nun, then presume God is calling you to be married." In other words, only priests and nuns receive divine calls. Other people don't have to listen. Our sacred authors, who knew nothing of Christian priesthood or religious life, would simply conclude, "No wonder ordinary people receive no calls; no one is listening."

One of the most significant aspects of today's Johanine call of the first disciples is contained in the last line: "'You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas' - which is translated Rock." A biblical name change always signals a change in personality. From Abram to Simon and Saul of Tarsus, names are changed after calls are given and received. An invitation from God is also an invitation to become someone new. Almost always, an unnoticed dimension of our personality surfaces when we generously respond to God's call. Something up on the periphery of ourselves is now drawn down to the center of our lives.

That's why today's I Corinthians passage is so significant. Though it technically doesn't narrate a call, Paul presumes all in his community have received an invitation from the risen Jesus to imitate his dying and rising. Since they said, "Yes!" to that call, their "... bodies (have become) members of Christ." All followers of Jesus are part of the body of the risen Jesus. Further along in I Corinthians, the Apostle will go into greater detail about the individual parts of that body, but here he simply stresses the new moral responsibilities Christians have because of their oneness with the Christ and one another. When we sin, we're not just sinning against ourselves, we're also sinning against the body of Christ. We're accountable to all in the Christian community, to all who share that one body. Paul would never have understood a "me and Jesus" theology. To be "another Christ" is also to be one with all those "other Christs" out there.

Today's three sacred authors are not only trying to make us more alert to God's call in our own everyday lives, they're also concerned that we acknowledge the calls of others. There's a lot more to calls than just priesthood and religious life. If we're not conscious and respectful of divine calls all around us, the body of Christ simply isn't going to function as Christ intended it to function.