Scripture tells us many stories about the different ways that God calls.
Isaiah had a vision that he felt compelled to tell. (Isaiah 1)
Jeremiah heard a voice telling him that he would be a prophet, despite objecting that I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said …,“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; you shall go to all to whom I send you, and shall speak whatever I command you. (Jeremiah 1)
Ezekiel reported that a stormy wind came from the north: … with brightness and fire flashing, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber... Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, the splendor …the glory of the Lord... I fell on my face and heard a voice say, “Mortal, stand up… I am sending you to the people of Israel, … you shall say, “Thus says the Lord God…” Do not be afraid…You shall speak my words to them (Ezekiel 1-2)
In this morning’s first reading (1 Sam. 3:1-10) God calls so subtly that Samuel almost missed it. The opening verse provides a context for this near miss: The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. Reference points for God’s call were infrequent.
The reading continues, Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” Samuel’s mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord in gratitude for having had him and he apprenticed with the priest Eli, serving in the temple.
Mistaking the voice for that of his teacher, Eli, Samuel went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
The Lord called again, and Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call my son; lie down again.”
The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. He got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Regardless of the manner of the call… a vision, a thunderstorm or a voice… God calls each person. The first responsibility is to pay attention and to engage with the call, even if it is to question whether God has misidentified the capabilities, as Jeremiah did, or to recognize the hostility that the message would engender, as Jeremiah did.
Samuel’s case represents a slightly different situation. He had to discern whose voice it was he was to respond to. But his response, once Eli had indicated its probable source, was appropriate: Speak, for your servant is listening.
The gospel for January 17th (John 1:43-51) takes place on the second day after Jesus’ baptism and tells of a different king of invitation.
… Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Jesus’ character and presence had such an impact on Philip that, after a brief encounter, Philip wanted to share his good news. Philip found Nathanael and said, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Philip’s claim about Jesus being the one about whom the prophets wrote was extraordinary given how little time he seems to have spent with Jesus. We don’t know how he reached this conclusion, but it must have been an “epiphany”, an eye and mind-opening experience that excited and energized him.
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Nathaniel’s skepticism seemed to have more to do with bias against “hillbillies” from Nazareth than anything more substantial. Philip recognized the knee-jerk reaction and immediately appealed to his intelligence saying, Come and see.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Somehow Jesus had discerned Nathaniel’s character.
Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus and Nathaniel had never met, but Nathaniel seems to have accepted Jesus’ description of him.
Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus’ perception went far beyond the visual seeing, even if it was at such a distance that he could not possibly have observed Nathaniel.
Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathaniel was obviously impressed by Jesus’ powers and verbally anoints him as the Son of God and King of Israel…the greatest titles and honour he can assign to Jesus. Between the lines we also recognize that Nathaniel was someone for whom the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, was important.
I imagine that Jesus smiled then answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Very truly, indicates a profound statement. The words say, ‘pay special attention to what I am going to tell you next.’ Then he tells them that they will see majestic heavenly signs and angels ministering to him in his true character. The angels ascending and descending echo Genesis 28: 10-19 in which Jacob dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…”
The other key phrase pointing to a heavenly relationship is Jesus’ use of the Son of Man as a self-reference. The Book of Daniel describes a vision in which
I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.
His dominion is everlasting …and his kingship shall never be destroyed.
In a few short phrases Jesus had referred to a rich vision of his place in the heavenly kingdom… but for the time being he would walk with them in the dust of Galilee. Jesus embodied a grand promise and a seemingly contradictory humility. He was inviting them to share in his journey, both physically and spiritually. It was a lot for Philip, Nathaniel, Simon and Andrew to take in.