We return to “the book of signs” (the Gospel of John) this week. Three clear notes are sounded in this passage, signalling three important themes of this Gospel. Revelation is the function that Jesus has (1:18); he makes known the very being of God. Grace is the character of Jesus (1:16); he lives in a manner that invites and encourages. Rejection, however, is the fate in store for Jesus (1:11). Not universal rejection, for some did accept him (1:12); but there would be significant rejection, to the extent that he would be cursed and stoned by his own people, then tried and put to death by Roman authorities. This would be no easy pathway for the chosen one. Let’s remember that after the Christmas story comes the narrative of Jesus’s life, which shows that even he faced huge obstacles and challenges.
For today and the next four Sundays we explore passages set in the lectionary from the Hebrew Scriptures. These passages illuminate the message of the Gospel which we hear each week from the New Testament. In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate Christ as the light that comes into the world, illuminating and enlightening. This story tells of the creation of light, the first act of creation, standing at the head of the story. Light is important for our daily life. Light is health-giving and energising. Light also comes into being to provide differentiation from darkness. Light governs the day, darkness governs the night. The regular pattern of day and night provides us with the pattern of waking and working, resting and sleeping. A full 24 hours in the light would soon become wearying. A full 24 hours in darkness would likely become depressing. Darkness plays a role for us in regular life. We need it. We should value it, alongside light.
We read the story of Samuel and Eli alongside the account of Philip, who invites Nathaniel to “come and see” (John 1:43-51). Both are stories of call—a confrontation, an request, an invitation to take up a challenge. One call is mediated, the other is direct. The message to Nathaniel is mediated through Philip, a man who has already responded to a direct call from Jesus. The message to Samuel comes directly from God, but Samuel mistakenly believes that it is old Eli, speaking to him in the night. Nathaniel makes a clear confession about the significance of Jesus, as Son of God (John 1:49). Samuel eventually responds to the call from God, but it took Eli to interpret it for him (1 Sam 3:8-9). Who mediates or interprets God’s call to you?
Today, another pair of call stories. We read the story of Jonah, called to proclaim God’s message to the city of Nineveh, alongside the story of Andrew and Simon Peter, John and James, called to become followers of Jesus. Jonah is effective in his proclamation to Nineveh, which in turn provokes God to change his mind about the calamity that he had promised for them. That is power!! But this was the second call that Jonah had received (3:1); the first had ended in quite a catastrophe (Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed hole, 1:15-17). Andrew and Peter, John and James undergo a period of learning-on-the-road with Jesus, before they start to proclaim with power. Theirs was a slowly-evolving call, requiring diligent attention and persistence. How is your call being worked out in your life?
Once we are called by God—then what?? We read today a story about the promise God made to Israel, to “raise up a prophet”, alongside the story of the man possessed in the synagogue in Capernaum, who was exorcised by Jesus. Both stories focus on the distinctive nature of faith in the particular contexts of these stories. The prophet of Israel stands over against “other gods” (Isa 40:20). Jesus of Nazareth is recognised as one who speaks “a new teaching—with authority” (Mark 1:27). Both stories indicate that being faithful to the call will place us in challenging, daunting, perhaps even threatening situations. Faith is a call to trust in God as we enter into those situations. How is your call being challenged? How are you responding?
Dr John Squires is the Presbytery Minister (Wellbeing) for the Canberra Region Presbytery.