1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10 (8a and 9a)
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
I ride the Long Island Railroad to work. Almost every day there are two or three people standing outside the train station giving out copies of Awake!. Usually they bring along a large display that reads “What does the Bible Really Teach?” Sometimes the display is seasonal or more specific (“What does the Bible teach about Halloween?” or today it was “A Government without Corruption”). I usually arrive about two minutes before my train pulls in to the station so I never have had the opportunity to engage these folks or to hear their schpeel about what the Bible really teaches. I think that it would take more than a few minutes for me to help them understand why I believe that the Bible “really” teaches something quite different from what they think.
This week’s readings turned my mind to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stand outside the train station for two reasons. First, like Samuel and the disciples, these people have heard and answered a call from God. I may disagree with them theologically, but there is no denying that they have taken quite seriously (and rather literally) the Gospel mandate to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). I admire them for that. It takes not only time, but also courage to do what they do.
Second, in this Sunday’s gospel, when the disciples approach Jesus for the first time, he asks them “What are you looking for?” I often wonder that about the folks I see at the train station – what are they looking for? Based on the literature they distribute, it seems that they are looking for clear answers. They are searching for certainty in a world marked very decisively by uncertainty. They want their questions answered once and for all. They want something to hold on to. Finally, clearly they care about their eternal destiny. The Watchtower and Awake! often focus on the end of time and speak to the question of how to avoid damnation. Thus, these people ultimately are looking for salvation.
But what is the nature of the salvation Jesus brings? It is telling that in this week’s Gospel, Jesus responds to queries from the would-be disciples by saying, “Come, and you will see.” Jesus is not offering them merely an idea, or a doctrine. He is inviting them to experience a new life. The life to which they are being called will change them (as foreshadowed by the change in Simon’s name to Cephas or Peter). Moreover, they are being called not just to an individual relationship with Jesus, but to become a part of a community of disciples.
In the first reading, Eli tells Samuel that the proper response to discerning a call from God is “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Similarly, the Psalm that we sing is “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” To learn to follow God and Jesus Christ requires that we be attentive to what God is calling us to, and that we find the will and receive the grace to actually do it. Of course, as even these readings indicate, neither of those things is easy. Repeatedly, Samuel has difficulty recognizing God’s voice. Likewise, any of us who has tried to figure out which path God would have us follow in life knows how hard it is to make out God’s voice or discern God’s will for us. In fact, it is likely that we will get it wrong. That is why we must not overlook the theme of community in these readings. Samuel turns to Eli for help. The disciples seek out others who will join them as followers of Christ. Paul reminds us that when we answer the call to discipleship our lives not only change individually, but we are incorporated into something greater than ourselves – “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”
We need other people in order to be faithful Christians. We do not hear and respond to God merely in our hearts but in community and in the world. We need a community to give us an example of what it means to be moral and faithful. We need a community to correct us when we discern wrongly or fail to align our will with God’s will. We need a community to support us when God calls us to do difficult things. So let us be open to hearing God’s call for us, and let us support our family, friends, and fellow Christians in the difficult task of discerning and answering that call.