Last Sunday, you may remember we heard that short Gospel lesson from St. John that is so widely known, the 16th verse of the third chapter, John 3:16. The verse was, "God so loved the world that God sent God's only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation." When we heard those words last Sunday, perhaps they did not bring about within us an understanding of the price that Jesus paid. It sounds so simple in a way, "God so loved the world that God sent Jesus, and Jesus so loved us that he gave himself for us."
The Peace Pulpit
As we listen to the lessons today, it seems to me that what might be a very important question for us to reflect on and to draw more deeply from the lessons is the question, "What happens when we don't listen to God's prophets?" God, as you probably know, continues to speak to every one of us so that in some way we can surface God's will in our lives, and the normal way that God does that is through the prophets. This is so clear in the Hebrew Scriptures and in that first lesson of today.
Editor's note: Because Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was traveling last week, his homily for March 11 was late coming to NCR.
Sometimes when we celebrate the special Peace Mass, if you will, on occasion when we've been reflecting on the way that Jesus teaches us to bring peace into our hearts, lives and worlds, we want to choose certain lessons that we think might express that. Well, these are the lessons that were already assigned for this Sunday, and it's been my experience very often that if you go to the lesson of the day, you find lessons that God wants you to hear rather than you choosing certain lessons that you think God wants you to hear.
The lessons today fit in very well with what we've been doing all day, trying to listen to God as God leads us into the ways of peace. As we heard the first lesson, it might not seem at first like one that would be easy to accept as a way toward peace. In fact, it's a very puzzling and difficult incident. What kind of a God would tell a father to sacrifice his son? What kind of a God would almost torture Abraham by putting him to this test which is beyond understanding?
Why we'd ask that question at this point -- because after all, you have really prepared over a long period of time for the Sacrament of Confirmation, so undoubtedly you're ready. Yet, it's important that I ask you: Do you want to be confirmed? Why? If you think about it, it's not just a ceremony that we're going through this morning. You could say, "Well, I want to be confirmed because everybody is prepared for it. We're going to have the ceremony, so I'll join in."
I think it is most appropriate today to begin our reflection on the Scriptures by focusing especially on the first lesson, where Isaiah is trying to reassure people that God is about to do something new, if only they have the courage to respond to what God is doing. We should remember that these are people who have been driven out of their own city and land. Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was left in flames. They had to go off into exile, and were in exile for 80-some years. By now, they had become accustomed to the way things are.
As Sr. Marie mentioned before our Liturgy, we celebrate today throughout the whole world a special day of celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. It's World Marriage Day. Of course, we want to try to reflect on the Scriptures in the light of this special day, but as I read them over, I thought this would be a real challenge. First of all, from the Book of Leviticus, we hear all the rules and regulations about how to worship according to the Jewish tradition.
Now as we try to listen carefully to today's Scripture lessons, there are a couple of things that we need to put into context. First of all, as I mentioned in introducing the Gospel, this event comes right after Jesus has for the first time proclaimed, "The Reign of God is at hand. Change your lives." Enter into this Reign of God by undergoing an extraordinary, profound kind of upheaval in your life. You've got to overcome what was wrong and now follow the way of Jesus. Change your lives, because then you will enter into the Reign of God.
As we listen to these lessons today, especially the first lesson and the Gospel lesson, it's obvious that we're being asked to reflect on the whole idea of vocation, a calling coming from God. We hear about Samuel -- he is called and misunderstands, but then finally hears and understands that God is calling him. Then Jesus, calling the first of His disciples, Andrew, Peter, Phillip and Nathaniel; these four are the very first ones that Jesus calls.
As you probably know, this feast of the Epiphany concludes our celebration of the whole Christmas season. In many parts of the church, this feast is celebrated with even greater joy and celebration than the feast of Christmas itself. It's the culmination of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, into our world. It is celebrated as the most important feast of the Christmas season. As we listen to the second lesson today, we get a sense of why in the early church, and for many hundreds of years in fact, this feast was so important.