25 January 2009

Epiphany III

Third Sunday After Epiphany
Adorate Deum

Jonah 3:12-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The light of Epiphany shines on a truth accepted by both religious and agnostics: a person who spends his or her life dedicated to a good cause rises above the ordinary and many times is considered a hero. We call this “responding to a call,” acting on a mission. All our heroes, whether saintly or secular, are people who responded to a call and acted on the demands it made on their lives. St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, as Luke described it, was dramatic and utterly life-changing. As Saul of Tarsus he was stopped in his tracks; he was called by name; he was confronted by the glorified Christ; and as a result, he became a new man for Christ.

The rather ridiculous person of Jonah, by contrast, tries to avoid a call and is confounded at every turn. God is not mocked, but God, apparently, can appreciate a joke.

The short gospel of Mark is filled with calls. Jesus calls the people to himself and to the kingdom of God, and the people call to Jesus for help and healing. We are barely into the first chapter when John, called by God to proclaim and practice a baptism of repentance, pays for his obedience to this call by being arrested by a worthless king.

Jesus, baptized by John, hears the voice of his Father proclaiming a call that is unique: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” and then spends 40 agonizing days in the wilderness contemplating his calling. Having chosen the way of utter obedience, he starts immediately to live out his response not in isolation but in the gathering of those whom he in turn calls by name.

There is an immediacy here, an urgency that propels the message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Cold chills run up and down the spine when the Son of God pronounces the word “time” – kairos in the Greek, the special time of God. Jesus uses this word, kairos, to speak of its fulfillment, or to declare at crucial moments: “My time (kairos) has not yet come.” He is always aware of where he is in God’s kairos.

As reported by Mark, he calls two sets of brothers first. Were they aware of God’s time? Is this why they responded so quickly? There seems to be no question in their minds that this is God’s call to them through this young, vibrant Jesus who becomes the focus of their existence from then on, even though most of the time they don’t understand him. With such obedience to God’s call to a new life is the world changed and saved.

The remarkable American anthropologist and medical doctor, Paul Farmer, responded to a conviction that all human beings on earth deserve medical care. Together with four other doctors he founded Partners in Health, and in the process is changing the lives of the poorest of the poor in Haiti, Peru, and Rwanda. What a shining light this man is in the midst of a hurting people. All because he responded to a call to heal the poor.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus responded to an inner conviction that poor women deserve to receive loans with the lowest interest possible so that their lives could be changed. By changing the lives of women for the better, he knew that he could help improve the lives of their whole families. On that conviction, or call, he founded the Grameen Bank, and the practice of giving small loans to women and the poor in general is now flourishing.

Desmond Tutu heard the call of God, which filled him with the unshakable conviction that all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin, are created in the image of God. That conviction led him to work with another great human being, Nelson Mandela, to bring an end to the evil of apartheid.

The stories of response to a call from God can be found all around us. We need them during this Sunday in Epiphany because the world at large is darkening with wars and currently with the enormous human misery in Gaza. We desperately need the light of Epiphany, the revelation that shines upon people who respond to a call from God, regardless of their background and religion. When their words and their actions bring light, they are all blessed by God regardless of the name by which they call their Creator.

Simon and Andrew, James and John did not know how their lives would unfold when they responded to the call of Jesus, who promised to make them fishers of humanity. They responded to his call because the man of God who was calling them possessed the light of Epiphany in his person. They knew instantly that he was from God, and they said, Yes! They didn’t stop to ask: “What will this cost me?” They left their livelihood behind.

In the case of Peter, did he wonder, “What will this mean to my wife, my family?” He knew that responding to the call of Jesus was good regardless of the consequences. He had regrets and failures and loss of confidence later, but all that passed because the light of Epiphany remained with him burning steady to the end.

Saying yes to the call of God means great suffering in many cases. Look at John the Baptist; look at Jesus and his disciples, and at Paul. Yet, not one of them turned away with regret. They were faithful to the end, even to death upon a cross. And because of their response to God’s call, we reap the blessings of their obedience. What responsibility does this place upon our shoulders? What if the call has sounded and we have ignored it?

May the light of Epiphany shine upon us in such a way that we see, recognize, hear, and respond to God when we too are called by name.

-- Katerina Whitley teaches at Appalachian State University and is the author of five books of Biblical characters who obeyed God’s call. She can be reached at katewhitley@charter.net or www.katerinawhitley.net.