Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Samuel and Eli -- John Singleton Copley

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 not only the end of Eli's own religious role but the disntegration of his family.

In the Gospel passage from John, Jesus calls two disciples, Philip and his friend Nathanael. Philip’s call is brief and to the point, Nathanael’s rather less so. Both accept the call. The New Testament has more to tell us about Philip, but almost nothing further about Nathanael. Nevertheless, the question he asks in this brief episode is deeply resonant with meaning -- “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Such immediate skepticism -- rooted in prejudice perhaps -- makes him an unlikely candidate for discipleship. Yet Jesus sees honesty in his skepticism -- "truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit" -- and this is the perception underlying Nathanael's call.

The Apostle Philip --Durer

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The answer, strangely, is a very powerful 'Yes'. Nothing less than the redemption of the world came from this undistinguished village -- 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 a profound 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’.

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