Jane lived in the city. She was walking home from work one day and saw a girl sitting on a cardboard mat on the sidewalk. The girl was homeless; her clothes were grungy, her hair disheveled, her cheeks red from the cold. She smelled bad.
As Jane approached, she smiled at the girl, then continued walking home. She felt guilty for not doing anything.
“How can I go home to a warm house with a full pantry while that girl is sitting there shivering on the street?” Jane thought.
As she began to pray, Jane realized that she was angry with God. “How could you let this happen to that girl? Why don’t you do something?” she asked.
To her surprise, she heard God answer: “I did. I created you.”
The story reminds us that each one of us has a role in God’s saving activity. We’ve just finished celebrating the Christmas season, during which we remembered not only the Nativity of the Lord, but all the people who had a part to play in God’s unfolding plan: Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon, Anna, John the Baptist and Jesus himself.
Each one participated in different ways in God’s plan. Each one contributed to the dawn of salvation. God’s saving activity — definitively accomplished through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection — continues today. He invites all to participate.
The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, taken from John, describes the call of the first disciples. Here John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God” to two of his followers. They turn to Jesus, who invites them to follow saying “come and see.” They do. Later in the day one of them, Andrew, goes to find his brother Simon and announces that they have found the Messiah. Simon too begins to follow Jesus as a disciple.
At least two of these disciples will go on to become apostles, which will entail more specific responsibilities. For now, these first disciples represent all who follow Jesus, and all who are called to follow Jesus. It is important to note that at the beginning of the public ministry, Jesus calls disciples to follow him. He will teach them in many ways about the kingdom of God and his mission. He will prepare them to carry on the mission of spreading the Gospel after his departure. Jesus instructs them through preaching, healing, forgiving, consoling and encouraging, and through his very person. Discipleship means following Jesus, learning from him and proclaiming the kingdom by the way we live.
Now, at the start of Ordinary Time, we have the opportunity to be refreshed in our own discipleship. The first reading for today’s Mass, a passage from the First Book of Samuel, describes the call of Samuel. After several exchanges where Samuel thinks Eli is summoning him, Eli enlightens Samuel as to who is calling. Eli then instructs Samuel to answer “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
When Samuel next hears the call of the Lord, he uses the response, which represents a deep inner desire to know the Lord and his will. Samuel refers to himself as a “servant.” He is willing to follow the Lord. The use of the term “listen” represents an openness to obeying the Lord and his will. Samuel humbly replies to the call with an open heart and a sincere desire to follow.
The Lord continues to call us to deeper discipleship and to an important role in his saving plan. One way in which we can hear that call is to listen to his word proclaimed every Sunday. Those who want to go an extra step can reflect on the readings before coming to Mass.
There are other ways through which God might speak to us, as in the story above. No matter what the manner in which he calls, Samuel gives us a great way to respond: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.