Sunday morning I was all ready to make a post talking about how since the new translation I’ve noticed a trend in churches to just do whatever psalm setting is in the missalette for the day rather than incorporating the wide variety of psalm settings available, but then I went to Mass and lo and behold they did Rory Cooney’s setting of Psalm 40, which happens to be exactly the psalm and setting we used at our wedding, so! I tried to find you a version to listen to, but as is so often the case with church music finding a recording that matches what you actually hear at Mass (as opposed to a talented-if-sometimes-trying-too-hard soloist with a backup band) is downright impossible, ESPECIALLY if you’re also looking for one that actually has the harmony parts. (It’s four-part. It’s gorgeous. It’s not on Youtube. I looked.)
Recently, Meg over at Pierced Hands confirmed something I was aware of but had never articulated: on Sunday, while the first reading and the Gospel almost always correspond, the second reading follows its own track. This caused me no little amount of grief as a teen lector, when I would spend hours practicing to proclaim the epistle only to have it ignored in the homily because it didn’t quite fit with the other themes. This past Sunday’s readings followed the same pattern, but all the homilies I saw floating around focused on the second reading, the “Don’t you know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” one. Which, I mean, okay, March for Life is this week, it’s an important message anyway, that’s fine. So today I wanted to talk a little bit about the other two readings.
Both the first reading and the Gospel are stories of people responding to a call. (Which could easily be tied into the whole “temple of the Holy Spirit” thing, but not everyone’s an English major, I know.) The story of Samuel is full of callings and very human responses, which is part of why I like it so much. (I just realized I have an entire blog post in me on the subject. Another post, probably actually forthcoming sometime soon.)
And the Gospel is John’s take on the calling of the first Apostles which, being John, is a little more twisty-turny. Or, to look at it another way, is a variation on a theme for the sake of making a point. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus is walking along the shore, calls out to the fishermen, and tells them to come with him so that they can be fishers of men, and they drop their nets and follow. In John’s version, Jesus is walking along, minding his own business, when that busybody voice in the wilderness of a cousin of his points him out and says, “Hey! Messiah! Right here!” So those of John’s disciples who don’t feel threatened by that idea (as opposed to some of the ones we see in Matthew’s Gospel) take off after him, and Jesus, quite aware he’s being followed, says, “What do you want?” Instead of answering, they ask him the equivalent of “where are you crashing?” and, instead of answering, he simply says, “Follow me and find out.”
No wonder Jesus and the apostles had some communication issues.
Anyway, John goes on to tell us that the guys went straight with Jesus back to his place, except oh wait one of them was Andrew, and he went with Jesus oh but first he went and got his brother Simon to come along by saying “Hey! Messiah! Right here!” And then as soon as Simon shows up Jesus just looks at him, skips all that bit about “who do you say that I am?” and says, “Yo, Peter.” John’s Jesus is, after all, fully aware that he came from the Father and is going back to the Father, so he’s the kind of guy who can just look at Simon and know he’s going to make this guy the rock of his new church.
Both the first reading and the Gospel show that responding to God’s call means first of all realizing that you’re being called, that God’s voice is the one speaking, and in both of them those being called have someone to help them understand what they are hearing. Jesus’s call is not as direct as God’s to Samuel; Jesus calls simply in the act of walking by–which is of course the greatness of the Incarnation, that God reveals his presence in a man, that he can walk by and be seen (as opposed to Elijah covering his face or Moses hiding in the cave in the presence of the Lord) and known, that real people had the opportunity to reach out and touch his cloak, to crash at his place, a place that was a physical thing, rooted in space and time. As John says later, this gift was given to the apostles that they may testify to the rest of us that they were there, that they sat and saw and believed, so that we who can’t quite sit and see may still believe and be ever more blessed for it. In the Old Testament, people have the Law, and by following the Law (with their hearts too, not just their mouths, the prophets remind them over and over) they might be kept in God’s grace and receive his favors; but hearing God, speaking with Him, is only for those to whom he chooses to make the especial effort to reveal himself. Jesus speaks that all who have ears might hear and draws people to him simply by being Himself, and in that drawing near he draws them near to God the Father in God the Spirit.
E’en so, the response of Samuel and the apostles is the same: showing up and saying, “Here I am. Speak, and I will listen.” And in the psalm, the congregation has the opportunity to speak with them, to say however uncomprehendingly, “Here I am. I come to do your will.” (And since the one who sings prays twice, singing the psalm means saying it twice over.) The psalmist reminds us that this is what God wants, our listening ears, that his will is for us to have his law of love upon our hearts, to praise him before the assemblies, and that this will be our joy and our delight even as He delights in us.
He might not call us in the way we expect–we might not recognize the name he gives us–we might need someone else to help us understand, to encourage (in the fullest sense of that word) us to answer. And answering might not always lead us down paths we want to walk–but then, it’s not about our wanting and willing, which so very often leads us into the sort of miserable suffering from which we can see no escape. Doing God’s will might be painful, but if we are truly talking to Him and listening in return–it will still be hard, but we may come to have a taste of His peace and His delight.
long was I waiting for God
and then he heard my cry
it was He
who taught this song to me
a song of praise to God
here I am, Lord
here I am
I come to do your will