Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE LORD IS PASSING BY. A Homily for the Second Sunday of Year B (John 1:35–42)

As usual the homily can be heard here.

            John the Baptist must've been some sight.  His hair had never been cut.  Given his diet of locusts and wild honey he was stick thin and he wore camel skins.  John must have looked something like an undernourished caveman, someone primitive and barbaric.  Yet people listened to him because he listened to God.
            According to tradition John ministered in Bethabara, over the Jordan river from Judea, in Southern Israel.  Andrew and most of the Apostles came from Galilee, which is in the North of Israel.  That's about 90 miles or 145 km away or the distance between here and New Ross, Co. Wexford and the journey was done on foot.  Our Lord, Andrew and the other disciple are far from home.  To have travelled so far they have been searching for something.
            Andrew and his friend, who is probably John the author of this Gospel himself, are so serious in their searching that they have become followers, disciples of John the Baptist.  The Baptist does no fit in any category the Jews recognise.  Though he is a priest of the Temple he does not go there and he is not a member of any faction or school.  He lives in the wilderness on the most basic of food.  He baptises not in stagnant stone vats of water but in the living water of the river Jordan.  He calls for repentance and conversion.  He is not like any of the other groups in Israel and people flock to him.
            Yet this extraordinary man points beyond himself to Christ.  Just before this passage John tells us that the Baptist had seen Jesus before when Jesus had come to him to receive baptism.  By this act of humility our Lord sanctified the waters of the world and made our baptism possible.  The Baptist himself gave testimony that he had seen the Holy Spirit descend on our Lord from Heaven and remain upon Jesus.  Seeing Jesus again the next day he points to him and says “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  We are so used to such words that we can easily miss their meaning.  Most of the sacrifices in the Temple were of lambs, male lambs without blemish.  So many lambs were sacrificed that one wonders if the smoke of incense could cover the stench of blood and burning flesh.  Most of these sacrifices were sin offerings as well as those offered in thanksgiving or to redeem a firstborn. 
            So when John the Baptist says that Jesus is the Lamb of God he is saying that Jesus is the one to make and be the sacrifice that will make all other sacrifices superfluous.  He is the One who takes away the sins of the world not just yesterday nor in the future but now and always.  He it is who absolves us of our sins, taking them away and restoring us to holiness through the ministry of the priest in the Sacrament of Confession.  
            The disciples hear and they understand.  John the Baptist is pointing them in a new direction.  He humbly seeks to grow less not more and he points his friends to the next step on their journey.  They go after the Lord and he turns to them with the simple question “What are you looking for?”  There's an important question.  How often do we seek after so much that is not important, that we cannot take with us, that promises a happiness that cannot be delivered?  How often do we neglect the one thing necessary?

            Their answer is curious: "Teacher, where do you live?"  It means more than it seems to.   Our Lord is far from hometown of Nazareth.  They are not asking for his address but for welcome and hospitality from Him, for communion with Him.  His response is "come and see."  Some scholars claim that in John's gospel the verbs for seeing and contemplating are connected, that in John there is no simple act of seeing.  John the Baptist has seen our Lord, has contemplated Him, recognised Him and sent these disciples to Him for Christ can deliver what the Baptist can only hope and pray for. 
            So these disciples go with our Lord but what they heard and saw they did not record.  Yet their actions are a kind of testimony.  Andrew travels the 90 miles to Galilee to find his brother Simon and tell him he has found the Messiah, that is, Christ.  Simon is impressed enough to travel to meet Jesus and finds himself renamed as Cephas or Peter, that is, 'rock'.   By meeting our Lord he has met his true self.
            John the Evangelist recorded this encounter because he saw that this was not just for him and Andrew but for all of us.  We are all asked by the Lord “What are you looking for?”  To those of us who choose to answer, to engage with Him in prayer, He offers us the invitation "come and see."
Our Lord is present to us on the Altar and in Holy Communion at every Mass.  He remains with us in the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.  He is always available to us in our hearts. He awaits our seeking Him and our attentive listening.  He wants to reveal to us our secret name and our true self. We, each and every one of us, are invited to the heights of holiness, to the heights of encounter with the Lord.  We are invited to enter the wilderness of self-denial and find the burning bush of God's Presence within us, His dwelling place in our souls, and there discover His loving care. 

            If we sincerely seek Him in prayer we will find Him and He will turn every wilderness in our lives into paradise.  He has given us the invitation.  It is up to us to follow and to find.

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