|The Calling of Samuel -- Joshua Reynolds|
Vocation, and what it implies, is the unmistakable theme that unifies this week’s readings. The Old Testament lesson tells the compelling story of the boy Samuel wakened in the night by a voice. Understandably, he takes it to be his aging master Eli calling for assistance. What else could it be? God is unlikely to call a mere boy in preference to a priest of wisdom and experience. Rather poignantly, it is Eli himself who helps Samuel to understand that this truly is God’s voice, even though by calling Samuel to be the priest and prophet of the Chosen People, God is thereby signaling the end of Eli's own religious role.
In the Gospel passage from John, Jesus calls two disciples, Phillip and his friend Nathanael. Phillip’s call is brief and to the point, Nathanael’s rather less so, though both accept the call. The New Testament has very little more to tell us about Nathanael, but the question he asks in this brief episode is deeply resonant with meaning -- “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Such immediate skepticism makes him an unlikely candidate for discipleship. Yet the fact that Jesus sees it and overcomes it, is the evidence that he is truly called.
|Philip the Apostle -- Duccio|
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The answer, strangely, is 'Yes'. The redemption of the world came from this undistinguished village, and not from a great cultural center like Athens, an imperial capital like Rome, or a place of religious pilgrimage like Jerusalem. The story of Samuel and the insignificance of Nazareth are both reminders of this truth: the first step to discipleship is openness to the possibility of God's preferring places and people that from a human point of view seem very unlikely or unpromising. It is a truth that the beautiful Psalm for this Sunday underlines. ‘LORD, you have searched me out and known me . . . you discern my thoughts from afar”. Divine vocation is not a matter of chance, but based on God's intimate knowledge of us, a ‘knowledge . . . so high that I cannot attain to it’.