The feast of the baptism of the Lord begins what is known as “Ordinary Time” in the Church’s liturgical year. Ordinary, in this context, does not mean mundane or regular or usual or average. It comes from “Ordinal” which means “counted time” or time that is not seasonal. During this time, the Church invites us to reflect on the mystery of Christ in all its wonder and fullness and to be inspired to live out what we celebrate in the life of Christ, in our own lives. In many ways, Ordinary time is really extra-ordinary time because we realize, through the scripture readings and reflections, that God in Christ enters our ordinary word and makes it extra-ordinary with his presence. This entry of God into our lives also challenges us to find the extra-ordinary in the ordinariness of life.
The first reading and Gospel of today might seem, at first glance, as Call narratives. However, they go much deeper. In the case of Samuel, it is more an inauguration of his mission rather than a call. Samuel is inaugurated as the mediator of God’s word. Yet, this inauguration does not simply happen. A lot of effort is necessary on the part of both God and Samuel. Though Samuel is sleeping near the ark, which is a source of divine presence and illumination, he cannot perceive the presence of God. Eli, who is nearly blind and sleeping apart from the divine presence of the ark, perceives that the Lord is speaking to Samuel. In this context, the expression “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” may refer both to the near extinguishing of divine vision in Israel and to the waning of Eli’s literal vision as well as his role as a priestly source of spiritual vision and therefore, the inauguration of Samuel. Samuel makes the response suggested to him by Eli, but he omits the word “Lord”, possibly because he did not yet “know the Lord”. At this point, the Lord “came and stood” before Samuel, indicating a visionary as well as auditory experience. The word of the Lord is no longer rare, but reliably present in the midst of Israel through Samuel. Samuel’s commission is to tell people that the Lord is going to wake people up from their slumber; he is going to do something that will make their ears ring.
The Gospel text of today begins by speaking of the witness or mediator of God’s word: John the Baptist. Even as Samuel’s mission is to wake people up, the mission of John the Baptist goes even further, namely, to point Jesus out to people. It is interesting that of the four titles that John used to identify Jesus earlier, he chooses here the title “Lamb of God”. While this title may signify the conquering lamb of Yahweh, here it signifies the lamb that is led to the slaughter, the suffering servant of God. John points Jesus out to his disciples as the one who will save people by giving his life as a ransom for all. The disciples realize that, in Jesus, they will receive more than John could ever hope to give. The disciples start following Jesus not fully knowing what this will entail. The first words that Jesus asks them, which are the first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John, are in the form of a question, “What do you seek?” This question is at once both courteous and penetrating. It requires the disciples to go into the deepest recesses of their beings to answer it. They respond with a question of their own, “Rabbi, where do you stay (remain)? They do not seem to be asking for Jesus’ residential address, but want to know where Jesus’ being is. They want to know what motivates Jesus and makes him the kind of person that he is. They want to know the source of his power and authority. Jesus does not answer with an address, but with an invitation. They must “Come and See”. If they really want to know who Jesus is, and what he stands for, they must experience him for themselves. They must stay where he stays and they must remain where he remains. They do that and it is the turning point in their lives. John signifies this by stating that “It was the tenth hour”. The tenth period, according to some apocalyptic calculations, was the decisive hour, the hour when one had to decide for or against. The disciples decided for Jesus. This, however, is only one part of the story. What follows is as important or even more important. The disciples, like Samuel and John the Baptist, also become mediators or witnesses of God’s word. This time, however, God’s word is not simply verbal. It is manifest in the most perfect of ways, in Jesus.
Paul like the first disciples continued to witness to God’s word and, in the second reading of today, urges the Christian community to do the same. He does this by reminding them that they are, indeed, temples of the Holy Spirit. It is only through them, and through their actions, that witnessing to Christ could continue and be made real.
This call to witness to, and be mediators of, God’s word made flesh in Jesus, is the responsibility of anyone who professes faith in him. The world is longing for such witnesses today. People are seeking for what they do not know, and so, are unable to find. They are knocking, but at the wrong doors. They are following, but following the wrong persons or ideals which do not satisfy and bring peace. Our lives as Christians must be that “something” which will make the ears of people ring. It must be that witness and pointing Jesus out to others. It must be that exhortation to all that real peace and joy can only be found in selfless service and total surrender to what God wants to do in us. We must be able to say like Samuel: “Here I am. You called me”.