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Homily - Second Sunday in Ordinary Time B - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 17 January 2021 

Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus. He knew that his mission was to fulfil Isaiah's prophecy of a Suffering Servant who would bear his people's guilt. Today he invites his first followers to join him on that mission. And how he invites them tells us something about faith and discipleship in every age. People of faith know that the call to follow Jesus seems so out of tune with our modern culture. Thus, today's Gospel gives us a chance to re-examine how Jesus saw the call to follow him.

Firstly, Jesus does not say that we have to accept certain truths before you can walk with him. When, on John the Baptist's suggestion, Andrew and his friend follow Jesus, Jesus asks a fundamental question, "What do you want?" Jesus looks at them, gazes at them. His focus is on them, who they are and where they are. The faith journey starts from when we allow Jesus to look at us in the depths of our heart. We do not have to pass an exam before we can start that journey. All faith is a response to an encounter with one who gazes on you. No amount of adherence to church teaching and moral laws is a replacement for encountering that loving gaze which enables us to begin the walk in faith.

And what do we want? St Thomas Aquinas was clear about what all human beings want. We want what gives meaning and purpose to our life.[1] Faith is discovering who we are and what divine love offers and expects. It is interesting that when Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, the Lord gazes at Simon and gives him a new name. We see who we are in a new way when we discover the gaze of Jesus that is fixed on us. Faith is thus a journey of discovery, where Jesus is taking the lead. When Andrew and his friend meet Jesus where he lives, the response is simply, "Come and see." Faith is a free response from a heart that has been stirred by the God who looks me straight in the eye. Only when the two disciples have encountered and spent time with Jesus can they then go to Peter and say they believe that they have found the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. Authentic faith and orthodoxy arise only from what St John will later write, "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us." (1 Jn 4:16

Secondly, in our first reading we encounter the boy Samuel. Eli was the priest in a time of crisis for Israel. His sons are described a little earlier as 'scoundrel's, and public faith appears to have shrunk to a hollow skeleton of itself. But here, as many times in the Old Testament, a crisis is the place where the faithful God renews the failing structures with a new voice in a most unexpected place. And how does God speak into that void and lack of direction? He calls someone who is young and inexperienced – and who needs time even to recognise the voice of the Lord. The only response of Samuel is to say that he is listening. Samuel does not say that he knows the answers. The only answer to the God who gazes at us and calls us patiently is come and see where he will lead. We are reassured today that God will renew his people, not through shrill angry voices who think they know all the answers but with those who are prepared to be knocked to the ground, like St Paul, and be led by the hand because all our angry human certainties have been removed and replaced with a disciple's heart.

Thirdly, the middle reading today seems to jar. What is a passage on sexual morality doing here? On the surface it is just part of the sequence of New Testament readings that we will follow over the next months. However, it does remind us that the moral law follows from who we discover ourselves to be before God. Discipleship is not just a solo shopping trip around a spiritual supermarket where I can pick what takes my fancy or will make me feel good. We are members of the Body of Christ and our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. Being a disciple means being joined to the Lord in one spirit with him. We become one of Christ's followers on his terms not ours, no matter where our bodies have been up until now. We are no longer our own property because we have been bought and paid for by the Lamb of God. The example of Jesus calls us to the crazy logic of heroic love and not merely to what seems sensible to human logic. We have seen all too clearly this week, that, when the Church loses its prophetic voice regarding any issue, it becomes a pathetic voice. When the church structures become too closely associated with the civil structures, we lose our ability to prioritise encounters between everybody and the Lord who gazes at us and invites us to follow him, whatever our starting point may be. As we will see later in the Gospel, Jesus prioritised meetings with those who felt most hurt and marginalised, and he criticised those who loved to condemn and scapegoat. Dumping guilt on others is not part of Christian discipleship. Jesus' ministry is a mission to the hurting and never merely a service for the perfect few. It is the Church's job to invite to find healing in Jesus' name. It is never right to punish, claiming there is an enemy to be crushed and sacrificed, while claiming divine authority for doing so. Thus, in a big hurting world, a small church for a holy huddle is never Jesus' ideal. An exhausted tireless field hospital for hurting people is closer to the mark.

We resume our journey of faith by returning to the starting point for disciples in every age. Faith cannot be imposed. It must begin and be nourished by an invitation to an encounter with the God who gazes lovingly on us. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a prime opportunity to gaze on the Suffering Servant who gave his life for us. And that call to discipleship means building communities where people can hear the voice of the Lord and seek support to discern where the voice of the Lord is calling them. Like Samuel, we all need wise heads and humble hearts to make sure we are following Christ and nor merely our own deceptive illusions. And finally, faith means building communities who can situate moral teaching in the context of the dignity that we discover through our encounter with the loving gaze of Christ. Moral teaching is a call to greatness where we can discover what it is that we really, really want. I invite you this week to spend time, allowing Christ to gaze lovingly into your eyes. All you have to say is, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." He will never let you down.

+ Donal McKeown

[1] STII, q28,a4

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