Come and See
Second Sunday of the Year. Fr Benjamin Earl encourages us to heed the call to discipleship.
It has long been fashionable to complain about the lamentable state of education in our society. C.S. Lewis has his Professor in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe ask more than once, ‘What do they teach them at these schools?’ The concern is an ancient one: even the ancient Greek philosophers in the centuries before Christ’s birth were known to complain of the behaviour of young people in their day.
What is true of teaching in general is true too of religious education. Perhaps in an increasingly secular age it is not surprising that today we are inclined to ask: ‘what do they teach them in these RE lessons?’
But this too is no novelty: take the example of Samuel in our first reading. He was presented to serve at the temple at Shiloh as a very small child shortly after he was weaned. Perhaps we might think of him as a particularly precocious young altar server. And yet we read: ‘Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord.’ Here was a lad, brought up by a priest, living in the Lord’s temple, literally sleeping in the same room as the Ark of the Covenant; and yet he ‘had as yet no knowledge of the Lord.’ What do they teach them at these temples?
The common thread running through today’s readings is one of calling. The call that comes from the Lord in the readings we have heard today is to people who, by divine providence, happen to be at the right place at the right time. It doesn’t come to people who are well-formed, well-prepared or well-educated. Samuel, despite his place of upbringing, has ‘no knowledge of the Lord,’ and ‘the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ Yet he receives the call nonetheless. Simon Peter, Andrew and the other unnamed disciple may have heard John the Baptist, and even seen him point out the ‘word of the Lord’ and ‘the lamb of God’, but they don’t know very much about Jesus. They don’t even know where he lives.
But look what happens to these four people. Samuel – who at first doesn’t even know who is calling – goes on to become a great prophet, the last of the Judges of Israel and the ‘kingmaker’, anointing in the Lord’s name first Saul and then David. Peter – who didn’t even know where the Lord came from when he was first called – he becomes the leader of the apostles, ultimately taking the gospel to Rome, capital of the known world. Andrew too was a great preacher of the gospel, traditionally credited with founding the church at Byzantium.
There is, however, a third disciple mentioned in today’s gospel, like Andrew a follower of John the Baptist. Who is this? It could be that this is the first appearance of the ‘beloved disciple’ who appears throughout the fourth gospel and is its source. That is possible.
Or perhaps you are that unnamed disciple. Your name may not be recorded in the scriptures, but Christ called you by name at your baptism to ‘come and see’ where he lives.
Where is that? Traditionally the Lord was spoken of as living in the temple – so the young Samuel, sleeping with the ark of the covenant, was, in a certain sense, sleeping in the presence of God. The Lord lives still in his temple, in his Church: so much so that the Church is called Christ’s body. In baptism we are called to ‘come and see’ Christ in his Church. Here, among us, is where the Lord lives; here, in his people gathered in prayer, we see him.
The call is not to an easy life. It is tough. The lives of Samuel, Peter and Andrew bear witness to that, as do the lives of countless disciples, named and unnamed, but all beloved of Jesus, down the centuries. Called by Christ, we become part of his body; even our bodies become holy parts of his holy body in the Holy Spirit. St Paul even goes so far as to say to the Corinthians that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. What we do in, with and to our body does matter. Yes, Paul today reminds us that the Christian is called to a high standard of sexual morality. But that is just a part of the high standard of charity, of love for God and neighbour, to which the Christian is called.
We fail, of course. We falter in following Christ’s call. We begin every Mass by acknowledging we have not met the high standard demanded of the Christian. We err as did the prophets and apostles before us. But, just as it was to Samuel, the Lord’s call to us is renewed time and time again.
Today he calls each of us once more to be his disciples. Do we turn over and go back to sleep? Do we ignore him? Do we ‘go back and lie down’? Or do we accept the adventure and the challenge of following Christ, and say to him today, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’? Come and see.
Image: detail of a mosaic of Samuel in the temple at the Rosary Basilica, Lourdes, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP