Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 14, 2018
Appeal Donor Appreciation Mass & Reception 

Isn’t it interesting that although the Christmas decorations have been barely put away, the scriptures today move very quickly from the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus to those that recount the words and work of Jesus as he begins his public life and ministry, calling his closest disciples to follow after him.  With great clarity and focus, Saint John – and each of the other three gospel writers – convey Jesus’ determination in proclaiming the reign of God and his resolve to engage those individuals who would participate in his mission.

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples encounter Jesus and immediately follow after him.  One of them, Andrew, quickly goes to find his brother Simon and announces to him that he has found the Messiah.  Simon too follows Jesus and is set apart by the Lord himself as Peter, the rock upon which Jesus would build his Church.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we encounter individuals who, having been touched by the Lord, respond and follow after him.  That same call and response has been a characteristic of the life and ministry of our Church from its earliest days through the 150 years of the life of this Diocese to the present.  …  Through baptism, we have all been given a share in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – a gift that, in turn, demands a response.  The response is discipleship – our willingness to live the mission of Jesus.

But there’s another story from the scriptures that also recounts a call by God and a response.  It was shared just a moment ago in our first reading from the First Book of Samuel.  The setting is different and the time of the call occurs hundreds of years before the time of Jesus.  Nonetheless, it speaks powerfully to the circumstances of our lives and our response to Jesus’ call to authentic discipleship.

A young boy by the name of Samuel, who would one day become a great voice in Israel, goes to live in the Temple of the Lord with Eli, the high priest.  While young Samuel is the one who is called by God and responds, I would suggest that it’s Eli, the high priest, who speaks to us more than we might imagine at first glance.

You see, Eli, in addition to being called to serve as high priest, was a failed parent.  The scriptures tell us that his sons were scoundrels who brought shame upon the house of Eli because of the sacrilege that they had committed.  While one might be inclined to say that Eli shouldn’t have been blamed for his sons’ bad behavior, like any of us who’ve faced such disappointments, there was a certain sense of responsibility that Eli owned for their actions.  Moreover, there was also a deep sense of unworthiness on Eli’s part that ensued as a result of his sons’ actions.

Yet, for as unsettling as the circumstances of Eli’s time as high priest might have been, the Word of God offers a hopeful note as well.  It points out that, in spite of Eli’s failure, God chose not to be without a voice.  In so choosing, God went so far as to use the failed and disappointed Eli to achieve his plan.

You see, it was Eli who guided Samuel, the great and future prophet of Israel, to open his mind and heart to God.  While Eli was not able to open the minds and hearts of his own two sons, he was still used by the Lord to teach another to listen to the voice of God.

And that, my friends, is the great hope that the Word of God speaks to us today.  It says that for any of us who have experienced disappointed or failed relationships, for any of us who have chosen poorly in life, we are still given the opportunity to respond to God’s call.  We are still given the opportunity to participate in God’s plan for creation because God offers us – always and at all times – a second chance.

For some of us, such a generous distribution of mercy and forgiveness on the part of God may appear to be in conflict with the reality of discipleship that Jesus extends to each of us who answer the call to follow after him.  …  Time and again, Jesus challenges us to engage the truth of the Gospel message.  …  He calls us to move forward and not cling to the allurements of this world.  …  And he expects that we be willing to carry the crosses laid upon our shoulders and follow him.

Yet, Jesus calls us – as we are – to be used by him in the work of building the Kingdom.  Yes, Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.  But he also calls us to both recognize and trust God’s power and presence in our lives when we are unable to move forward on our own.

Do you doubt this reality?  Then look at the scriptures today.  Look at those God called for his own purpose and plan:  Eli, the broken high priest of Israel; Andrew, the uneducated fisherman; and Simon Peter, the impetuous disciple who denied Jesus three time.  …  And then take a look at ourselves!  We are ALL a part of God’s great plan!

Recall the words of Pope Francis that were shared at the close of the great Jubilee Year of Mercy that concluded well over a year ago. “Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’” (Lk 23:34).

So, my brothers and sisters, as we reflect upon Jesus’ call to discipleship, in the mystery of God’s plan, may we reflect less upon who we are and how perfectly we can contribute to the work of God.  Instead, may we simply trust in the mercy and wisdom of God, allowing God to work in and through our lives to build his Kingdom of love and peace.  And may our prayer each day be that of the prophet Samuel offered in our first scripture reading, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”