Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Third Sunday after the Epiphany Year B

Third Sunday after the Epiphany B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

With broad strokes, the author of Jonah makes a precise point. He presents Jonah as fighting God at every step, but finally accepting the role he is called to play, if begrudgingly.  Although Nienveh was one of the neighboring superpowers which was a constant threat to God's people, yet, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah for the second time..." to go to his peoples' enemy with God's message.  Jonah went to the huge metropolis, (which took "three days" to walk across), got one day's walk into the city and began to deliver: "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  The people "believed God," "proclaimed a fast" and "everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth."  When God saw that the people had responded to the message delivered by Jonah, God had a 'change of mind' and "said:" God will not destroy Nineveh and it did not happen.

The psalmist has learned through the vicissitudes of life to trust God as hope, rock, salvation, stronghold, safety, honor and refuge. However, he has no delusions about people, whether important or unimportant in everyday matters.   Do not be dazzled by human "lies" or the influence of human "oppression."  Do not have "illusions" about cheating others; "though it bears the fruit of wealth/set not your heart upon it."  Although God spoke "one thing," the psalmist heard "two things:" God is the only source of honest, reliable "strength," and the core of that "strength" is "kindness."

Paul's apocalyptic asceticism was quite common among various religious sects of his day. He advises dispensing with basic human activity, personal and social, "for the present form of this world is passing away."

Matthew, Luke and Mark follow the narrative that Jesus did not begin his public ministry until after John the Baptizer had been arrested and that Simon Peter and Andrew, then two other brothers, James and John, were the first followers who accepted Jesus' call to accompany him on his journey. All four men made their living as commercial fishermen, so Jesus' only comment is direct and to the point: "Follow me and I will make you fisher of people." Mark's details emphasize that Jesus' invitation was short and direct and their response was immediate, leaving their co-workers and father.

Jean-Luc Marion's writing is so supple it is a sensual experience to read. His important book, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Giveness culminates in a dazzling analysis of "the call." ((pp 282-319)

He discovers these vital points:

  • "...a call... decides the choice of a spirit, a soul, a life" (p. 283)
  • one "takes a call upon himself" (285)
  • and, therefore, "assumes unambiguously the role of he who knows himself subjected to a seduction" (286)
  • which means that "it is necessary to decide if you want it or not" (286)
  • and if one accepts the call, she becomes "a prism...who converts the one [call] into the other[response] (296
  • "only the response performs [completes, makes actual] and the gifted [responder] renders visible and audible what gives itself to it only by corresponding to it in the act of responding, 'Here I am'" [Marion uses the example of Samuel's call and response; see last Sunday's reading and commentary)
  • call always precedes us, literally, because it precedes our birth in the hopes, aspirations, longings, passion of our parents; "I am born from a call that I neither made, wanted, nor even understood." (290)
  • at the beginning, who is calling can be ambiguous even unknown; but it is given a name "through their [the responder's] response, a full name to the caller of the call" (298)
  • at some point, the called "will pass beyond the name given in response in order to confront his own "anonymity." "At this moment, the child becomes an adult... that he should make a name for himself." (301)
  • "no advice or counsel, no friend or enemy, can do anything for the gifted [called] in the situation of giving itself over or not." (307)
  • indifference or even denial of the call is an option, but remember that in your decision, you are making "the choice of a spirit, a soul, a life."
  • "the history of the gifted is due to the sum of its response, which draws it near or distant from the call." (295)
Marion's analysis of "the call" as a human experience vividly illuminates these readings. For the believer, God's call comes from anyone, anywhere, anytime. It calls us out of ourselves and into the lives of others; making us "fishers" of other individuals, communities and societies.  At first it's source or shape may not be recognized. And it certainly may not come at a convenient time nor, if we are honest, is it really necessarily wanted; we see ourselves in Jonah! But our response makes the call meaningful, clear, real, actual. Jean-Louis Chretien puts the matter succinctly: "That to which we respond gives itself to us in the response that we give to it."   Therefor, Whoever fails to respond simply does not hear and has not heard.  But whoever responds is exceeded by that which calls forth his[sic] response."  (The Call and the Response, p.25)In some way or other, it takes us outside ourselves and, in the process, we grow up a little more, just as James and John left their father. We can be deaf or blind to God's call or we can even deny it. But in our responses, we are building our life, our soul. Our presumed vocation ("call") is enlarged, just as the commercial fishermen were made into "fishers of people." And the results, no matter how much we resisted, can be quite wonderful. What prospects!