[HOMILY] The Divine Call
Samuel is a fascinating and unique character in the history of Israel, and in many ways a rare and clear foreshadowing of Christ’s role as priest, prophet, and king. Samuel is born to the barren Hannah, but raised in the tabernacle because of the promise she made to consecrate him to the Lord. In this consecration, he lived as a Nazarite. They are those who:
– do not drink alcohol
– do not shave their hair or beard
– remain ritually clean, thus they cannot be near a dead body
Samuel functions as a priest, as well as in his role as a prophet and as the final Judge of Israel. Most mysteriously, from childhood he sleeps right in the sanctuary with the ark. It is during Samuel’s time that Israel demands a king, so it is he who anoints Saul and David. Samuel spends his life for the Lord, called from childhood and consecrated. Other prophets were called out of their work: Elisha was a rich farmer, Amos a tender of Sycamore trees, Ezekiel a priest. Samuel was a special case, having been raised in the temple. He was called to serve under corrupt priests, prophecy to a nation who rejected God, and offer sacrifice for all his people while they worshipped other Gods.
With the fascinating case of Samuel’s mission in mind, I want to meditate today on the Divine Call. We all, at some point in our lives, receive this divine call. Some, like Samuel or St. Paul, receive it audibly and forcefully from God himself. Some, like Elisha called by the prophet Elijah, receive it from another human being, but it is no less obviously the call of God. Most of us, however, receive the divine call amid life, in discreet but firm nudges from God, in the persistent tug of the gospel and Christian witness, or in the deep yearning of our soul for something real, something this world cannot offer.
Our Gospel today is the call of the first apostles. In these men, we see the model, the prototype for the call all of us receive- not only when we first enter the Christian life, but each day we begin it anew. So, let’s look at the Gospel. John the Baptist sees Jesus pass by and knows the moment has come to send his disciples out. He had long since known his own mission as the forerunner, as one crying out in the desert, but now he gives his disciples their mission as he says very simply, “Behold, the lamb of God.”
The two disciples hear John and immediately leave him to follow Jesus. John the Baptist, the forerunner, has prepared them for this moment. His mission, to make straight the way of the Lord, was to give these men the strength to answer the call of the Messiah when he came. John himself was also such a powerful witness that they trusted him to recognize the messiah. This is our first lesson: to be prepared for the voice of God, that we might recognize it when it comes. What are we doing to prepare our hearts for Gods voice, how are we cultivating the soil that the seed of the word can take root?
Jesus realizes these two men are following him and turns to them: “What are you looking for?” That is the classic question, the human question! And the answer is always the same: happiness, meaning, rest from the rat race of this world. Those things we all long for and go looking for daily, but seem to slip so easily from our grasp.
They ask Jesus where he is staying that they may stay with him, and he tells them, “Come and you will see.” This pursuit, the disciples of John coming after Jesus, is interesting because the initial pull is nothing to do with doctrine or teaching, but everything to do with Jesus himself. He, in his person, is drawing them in. It is compelling enough for Andrew to search out Peter and proclaim, “We have found the messiah.”
What a fascinating exchange. What can we draw out from this encounter of the first three apostles with Jesus to apply to our own spiritual lives? What can we learn them and from Samuel called as a youth?
We find ourselves in a time when 80% of Americans are Baptized, but about 50% go to Church. And beyond that, how many pray, how many engage the spiritual life in a serious way? Our own Bishop Thomas recently gave us the hard numbers in his homily for the dedication of All Saints Chapel at Carroll College. I won’t repeat the numbers, because my point is not that. The divine call has never been the wide and easy road, nor will it ever be. It is difficult to be a disciple of Christ, for his call never takes us to a comfortable place.
Just look at the men in the readings: Samuel witnessed the destruction of Israel’s army, the Ark of the covenant falling into enemy hands, the death of the High Priest and his sons, and the rejection of God as king of Israel. The Apostle John witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, then after the Romans failed to martyr him, he was banished to the Island of Patmos to live out his life in exile. Andrew, after ministering to much of eastern Europe into Russia, was crucified just has his Lord has been- though not in the same manner; rather, on an X-shaped cross. Finally, Peter, our first Pope, who in his weakness denied the Lord three times, yet did not lose the faith, went out to found the Church of Antioch, and later the Church of Rome, where he was martyred with Paul. Peter was also crucified, only upside down because he, like Andrew, considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
In looking at the outcome of Christian discipleship, we may want to quote Teresa of Avila who said to Jesus, “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”
So why mention the persecution of all Jesus’ friends? To show that the divine call is one that consumes us, that sends us on a mission and gives us the courage to endure anything and everything that mission presents.
Sometimes I feel redundant in my preaching, just saying over and over again how important our relationship with God is, but then I look at my own life and realize how often I need to begin again in living the Christian life. And though the goal is always the same – to give our lives completely over to Christ – the result is our diverse and beautiful Church. The Divine call is fundamentally the same, but practically, it is totally unique for each Christian.
It seems we as Americans are like Samuel, who slept in the sanctuary his whole childhood yet he “did not yet know the Lord.” Most of us have been called since before we remember in our baptism. So, the divine calling for us is a reawakening to the call we have already been given. Today we must be inspired by the scriptures, by the bold witness of the first apostles in following Christ, by the way they prepared their hearts to hear the call. We too have a diving calling, and it does not come only once but many times, throughout our lives. We can hear the call and accept it as Samuel, John, Andrew and Peter accepted, or we can reject it as the rich young man in the Gospel rejected it.
Let us today beg the Lord to prepare our hearts to recognize his call, open our ears to hear him, and may he give us the courage to say with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” And with the psalmist today “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.”
 Lecture by Dr. Tim Gray, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, 2013