January 14, 2018 – Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Samuel 3:3-10, 19 / 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20 / John 1:35-42
Homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis in 2015
In today’s first reading, Samuel is called to be one of God’s prophets. He was confused about where the call was coming from. It took God four attempts, but eventually Samuel was on board.
It’s not the only time God has had trouble when calling prophets. He appeared in a burning bush to call Moses, who had excuse after excuse about why he shouldn’t be the leader God wanted him to be.
And Jonah — God had to chase him all over, including into and out of the belly of a whale, to get him to sign on as a prophet.
Which raises the question: Why does God make more work for Himself?
I mean…He’s God. Why put up with all the nonsense? He could have snapped His fingers and Samuel would have been a prophet. He could have skipped the burning bush, tapped Moses on the shoulder and ordered him to go free the Israelites.
If He really wanted Jonah to be a prophet, why didn’t He just make it happen? Why chase Jonah? Why didn’t He just choose someone else?
The same question could be asked of Jesus regarding His efforts while on earth. Why did He make more work for Himself?
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Andrew overheard this and started following Jesus. This is how Jesus chose one of His apostles? Some random guy following him down the street? Wouldn’t it have been much easier to handpick the best and the brightest to be His apostles?
The Rabbis leading the religious communities at that time were surrounded by scholarly disciples. These disciples studied and trained for years before being sent out as learned leaders. Only the best were called. They were unrelenting, faith-filled, righteous warriors. Why didn’t Jesus tap some of those guys on the shoulder, tell them He was God, and give them their marching orders?
Instead, He made more work for Himself by calling common laborers: fisherman and farmers, even a tax collector. He trained them using parables, which they often had difficulty understanding. They were men whose faith surged and faded. Doubt was always looming. Not warriors at all, but cowards who ran off at the first sign of trouble.
If God’s ultimate goal was spreading the gospel message, His methods were inefficient at best. However, God is not about efficiency. If He were, He would not have given man free will.
God wants us to live the gospel message, not recite it. He’s OK with messy. He wants us to feel and experience. He wants us to love and needs us to suffer at times. He wants us to be challenged, and grow stronger because of those challenges. He wants faith to be part of who we are.
God wants us to take ownership. When it’s ours, we’ll fight for it. We’ll hold onto it.
As parents, Carol and I had a unique distinction. According to our kids, we were the only parents in the entire world who did not give their children an allowance. As you can imagine, we were quite proud of that. To be recognized on such a global scale was humbling.
We would be presented with facts such as: So-and-so’s dad pays him $10.00 every time he cuts the grass or shovels the driveway. Those parents give their kids $5.00 a week and all they need to do is make their beds and take out the trash. And if they cleaned their room, they got extra. Raking leaves, vacuuming, washing dishes – each chore had a pay incentive attached.
Given the fact that all of the other parents in the world were putting out cash for this type of work, our kids challenged us on why we didn’t do the same.
Our answer: “We don’t pay you to help with work around the house because it comes with being part of a family.”
If they had asked for further explanation, I would have added this: “When you work at something, you become invested in it. The work has intrinsic value. It promotes teamwork, work ethic, and service for the common good. It shows appreciation for all we have. These are values that you will take with you into the world. We earn our keep. It’s what families do.
You are my children; you’re not the hired help.”
I could have paid them, or anyone, to do the work around the house. But then my kids would’ve had no sweat equity in the family, no sense of ownership.
Back to the original question: Why does God make more work for Himself?
He wanted Samuel and Moses and Jonah to have some skin in the game. He needed them to be invested, so He made them work for it. When they were serving as God’s prophets, they did it with passion because they had paid their dues. God’s work became part of who they were – it defined them.
As for the apostles, what if Jesus had chosen the best and the brightest? Would they have lived the gospel with as much invested passion as those Jesus ultimately chose? The apostles were a ragtag bunch of laborers, sinners every one. But they were in the trenches with Jesus. They earned sweat equity. They experienced raw life.
The apostles were definitely not the most efficient group ever, but they were incredibly effective models of the faith. In fact, each of the twelve died for his faith. That’s ownership.
What about us? What about this ragtag bunch of laborers? “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We are called to get to work.
Because God is God, He could have created us and placed us directly into Heaven. Easier on Him, easier on us. Instead, He is investing in us, hoping we will invest in Him.
We are on earth to earn sweat equity. We live life here so we can take ownership of our faith and show a commitment to living the gospel. Every bit of joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, and love we experience along the way is an investment in our faith.
We earn our keep. It’s what a family of faith does.
We are God’s children; we are not the hired help.