Editor’s note: The prepared text of the homily that Bishop Douglas J. Lucia preached for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 17), appears below.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Many of you probably never suspected that a Sunday homily would begin with the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Yet, at this particular juncture in our life as a nation, they are particularly apropos to aid our reflection on this Sunday’s Scripture readings.
“I pledge allegiance…” I looked up the definition of the word “allegiance” and this is what I found: “loyalty and support for a ruler, country, group or belief.” In a nutshell, the word “allegiance” actually sums up for you and me the call of the Word of God on this Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord. At our own baptism, brothers and sisters, you and I were initiated into the life of God, into His Church, the living Body of Christ, and this afternoon/morning, we are reminded of the commitment, of the activity that goes with this pledge of eternal life! Like Simon in today’s Gospel who will be called Cephas/Peter, meaning “rock,” we are asked to consider how we can help build up people’s faith in God by our own living out of the Gospel — the Good News of Jesus Christ!
As we begin our journey through Ordinary Time, the Word of God for this Lord’s Day introduces us to the actions of listening, looking and gazing, and responding to the call to discipleship. The first reading you and I hear is the well-known call of the young Samuel [1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19]. Interestingly, it is a crisis moment in the life and politics of Israel. The priestly family serving the temple at Shiloh had become spiritually exhausted and dissipated; politics and society are corrupt. In fact, the opening two verses of the third chapter of First Samuel actually state: “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
It is into this scene that the call of Samuel occurs and reverberates down through the ages: “Samuel, Samuel…” Then his answer: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” It is then noted that, “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
Brothers and sisters, let’s be honest with ourselves: How effective, how life-changing, is the Word of God you and I hear Sunday after Sunday for our lives? Like Samuel, if you and I pledge allegiance to the Word of God and we let that Word become flesh in us, shouldn’t it point us and others in a new direction in life? Isn’t that what was happening a couple of Sundays ago when we celebrated the Epiphany? The Magi’s encounter with the Christ led them to set out in a new direction.
That is what is happening in today’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of John. John the Baptist stands with two of his disciples, ready to decrease in personal significance so that Jesus may increase (cf. Jn 3:30). John watches Jesus pass by and points him out to his disciples as the Lamb of God. The significance of this moment is found in the fact that the Jewish religious experience of the lamb was as a sacrificial offering that overcame the alienation of sin and created unity between the people and God.
In naming Jesus the “Lamb of God,” John emphasizes not only that Jesus is consecrated and set apart for a holy purpose, but also that Jesus’ life will end in sacrifice to save others. Call to mind in the Exodus story, the blood of the lambs smeared above the doorways of the Hebrew people in Egypt so that the angel of death might pass over them during a time of plague. Hearing John’s words, two of his own disciples are intrigued enough to approach Jesus and then follow him to where he is staying. I know it is not even a month after Christmas, sisters and brothers, but I think it is necessary to ask whether in the inn of our lives there is a place for Jesus to stay and to converse and instruct you and me?
In the Word of God today, Samuel, the servant of Eli, becomes the servant of the Lord and a living vessel of God’s word; the followers of John the Baptist become disciples of Jesus, and in turn, become a living Gospel for all people to hear. A bit later, Paul would sum up this mission by calling his listeners to “glorify God in your body.”
This Lord’s Day, my brothers and sisters, God calls you and me once again; and it is an invitation to his present-day listeners to sharpen our allegiance: to choose to follow Christ and take up his mission.
In one of his Sunday sermons, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of this challenge in American society and its need to rediscover morality. He said:
“[W]e’ve got to go back and rediscover the principle that there is a God behind the process. Well this you say, ‘Why is it that you raise that as a point in your sermon, in a church? The mere fact we are at church, we believe in God, we don’t need to go back and rediscover that. The mere fact that we are here, and the mere fact that we sing and pray, and come to church — we believe in God.’ Well, there’s some truth in that. But we must remember that it’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism — that’s the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don’t. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That’s a dangerous type of atheism. And I think, my friends, that that is the thing that has happened in America…”
As we let these words sit with us this week may this be our prayer:
Lord, teach us that here on earth
You have no voice but ours
To preach the good news of Jesus to others.
Help us to spread that good news
Not only by our prayers
And by our material resources
But also by our personal word and example.
Lord, teach us that here on earth
We are, indeed, your hands;
We are your voice;
We are your heart.