By Benedictine Father Paul Nord
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Response: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Gospel: John 1:35-42
First is the memorable account of God calling the young Samuel, while the elderly priest Eli helps Samuel to recognize and respond to the voice of the Lord God. Eli has grown old and blind (see 3:2), which suggests that Eli’s time as priest of the Lord is coming to an end. Eli’s sons were already serving as priests, but they were sinning against the Lord. The Lord tells Samuel that He will punish Eli’s priest sons.
The Lord calls Samuel and thus begins to provide new leadership for the people of Israel. Samuel’s innocence and pious devotion contrast sharply with Eli’s sons. Samuel is sleeping before the ark of God – in the holiest part of the temple. This remarkable image shows Samuel’s devotion to the Lord. Specifically, Samuel is watching “the lamp of God” (3:3) which burned beside the ark of God. The young Samuel was faithful in helping the priest Eli, unlike his sons. Recall that Samuel’s mother Hannah had suffered with years of infertility. Thus she prayed to the Lord – promising that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate the child to the Lord’s service (1 Samuel 1–2). This is how Samuel came to be Eli’s assistant in the temple. These verses speak of the temple in Shiloh. Many years later, King Solomon – son of David – built a new Temple in Jerusalem.
Note that “the LORD” appears ten times in our reading. Uppercase “LORD” indicates that the original Hebrew word (being translated) is the divine name YHWH. Writing “YHWH” without vowels is a reminder that the divine name YHWH is traditionally not pronounced by pious Jews and Christians. It is a sign of respect for God’s name YHWH to not pronounce it. This pious practice began before Christ’s birth – as shown by the Greek Septuagint’s use of “Lord” (Kyrios in Greek) as a translation for the Hebrew “YHWH.” Eli instructs Samuel that if God calls him during the night, Samuel should reply: “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Eli is teaching Samuel to recognize that YHWH (the LORD) is speaking to him, and to respond as the Lord’s willing servant.
In our second reading, from 1st Corinthians, Paul discusses sexual immorality with the understanding that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” The Christian is in a radically new situation from all persons who lived before Jesus Christ. Before his crucifixion, Jesus told his apostles that he would soon leave them to return to the Father. But Jesus promised that the Father would send them the Holy Spirit – a guarantee that the apostles would not be left as orphans (abandoned) by God after Jesus’ departure (John 14–16).
Paul is explaining what God has given us through the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. In the Incarnation, God has entered into a radical new intimacy with mankind. The Crucifixion and Resurrection have redeemed us from sin and death. As a consequence of God’s saving actions, our human bodies can now be temples of the Holy Spirit. Baptism has made us members of Christ’s body. But to receive the gift of God’s Spirit – dwelling within us – we must avoid immorality, including sexual sin.
Paul movingly concludes: “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” We belong to God! Through baptism in Christ Jesus, we have been united with God such that God’s Spirit dwells in our bodies like a temple. Paul exhorts Christians to act in a manner worthy of this great gift. Further, the Spirit is a “first installment” (2 Cor 1:22) “while we await the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). So today’s reading says: “God raised the Lord and will also raise us [bodily] by his power.”
Today’s Gospel reading contains John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus’ identity: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This verse John 1:36 repeats 1:29, in which John the Baptist similarly said about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
As is well-known, Exodus 11-12 records that God, through Moses, had warned Pharaoh that all the first-born of Egypt would die as punishment for Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Israelites. But the Lord God had commanded Moses that each Israelite family should slaughter an unblemished lamb, and should apply its blood to the doorposts and lintels of their homes. Thus God promised to spare the Israelites’ first-born children. Exodus 12 also commands the Israelites to commemorate God’s salvation every year – the feast called Passover, which Jews continue to celebrate today.
Therefore when John calls Jesus the “lamb of God,” it connects Jesus’ salvific actions with God’s salvation of the Israelites. God is again decisively acting to save.
Further, the ritual sacrifice of a lamb to God had the purpose of reconciliation from sin and restoration of communion with God. Thus John the Baptist announced that Jesus was reconciling humanity with God in a manner similar, yet superior, to the passover lamb.
In this gospel, John’s two disciples respond to John’s words by following Jesus – they become his disciples. This is John’s mission – to bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah. The disciples call Jesus “Rabbi.” While this is a title of respect, it also reveals that they have not yet fully understood who Jesus is. But only a few verses later, Nathanael exclaims to Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). Nathanael’s progress in recognizing Jesus’ identity is a response to Jesus showing prophetic knowledge about Nathanael.
After Andrew begins following Jesus, he quickly tells his brother Simon: “We have found the Messiah.” Then Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus. In this encounter, Jesus shows special knowledge about Simon – calling him “son of John,” and saying that Simon will be called “Cephas,” which is “Peter.” Jesus similarly calls him “Simon, son of John” three times in John 21. This is the post-Resurrection account in which Jesus asks three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” By contrast, he is called “Peter” or “Simon Peter” in the rest of John’s Gospel.