As a young man, I spent a lot of my time in and around the church. My grandparents helped build the local German church and took care of the nuns. My other grandmother walked to the Irish church for mass every day. I would wait with her on Fridays for my uncle, a priest, to come home for the day. Another uncle was a Christian Brother. From time to time we would travel to the schools he was involved in for shows he was involved in. So as I grew it seemed natural to gravitate to the church. I would not say I had a dramatic, “call” but it seemed to be the vocation I was led to.
The Scriptures on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time are a reminder of how frequently it is family, friends or mentors who will recognize our latent gifts and offer us a glimpse of where we will be called to serve. Our often-foggy vision gains a bit of clarity when others – through their confident words and actions – empower us to claim our gifts, to take on new responsibilities, and to accept that we, indeed, are being called by God.
In the Gospel, we hear John the Baptist boldly and confidently proclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God” and the “Son of God.” These powerful titles lent the weight of authority and credibility to Jesus as he begins his public ministry. Not only did he establish Jesus’ solid credentials, John stated that Jesus “ranks ahead” of him. If Jesus ever struggled with discouragement in his calling because of the incessant attacks by religious leaders, or if the frustrations of not being understood by his closest friends and relatives wore him down at times, it must have been a source of strength to recall the words of the Baptist in this encounter, and the assurance that John saw the “Spirit descend and remain” on him.
As Jesus lived out his call as the “Lamb of God” and “Son of God,” he witnessed that God’s love, mercy and compassion knows no boundaries. While John the Baptist initially recognized that Jesus “might be made known to Israel,” the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading attest that God desires salvation for all peoples and nations. This passage underscoring the servant’s awareness that his call had a wider scope than originally anticipated may have been in Jesus’ mind and heart as he brought God’s tender love and compassionate care to the outcasts, the unclean and the Gentiles. Jesus responded to a “call within a call” – the phrase St. Teresa of Calcutta used to explain how her unique vocation unfolded – as a “light to the nations,” as Isaiah foretold, his call extending far beyond Israel.
The Scriptures this Sunday hint that our calls from God are dynamic, and that they often come through the words of others, inviting, encouraging and challenging us to claim our gifts with confidence.
The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect: What directions are within our power to give to others, encouraging their calls to be a source of nourishment? Like John the Baptist, can we endorse and lift up the gifts of others, knowing that their light may eclipse our own?