The three readings we have this week are, I believe, an example of a woven piece of God’s mysterious message-giving. It creates a colorful piece with threads that weave the way from Isaiah, through the Letter to the Corinthians, into the Gospel of John, laced with verses from the Responsorial Psalm 40.
From Isaiah we hear: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” Then Paul tells us who the “you” is: “You who are called to be holy with all who call upon the name of Jesus.” Now slip in a line from Psalm 40: “Sacrifice or offerings you wish not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.” This leads us right into the Gospel and a declaration of obedience to listening. John the Baptist speaks: “I did not know him (that is, when Jesus came to the River Jordan for baptism). I saw the Spirit and the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one’…” Then slide back to Psalm 40 “To do your will, O my God, (to be obedient) is my delight.” Obedience is the psalmist’s delight – John’s, Jesus’ and ours.
Today is the opening of the Week of prayer for Christian unity. The theme is captured by the presence of the two groups at the Jordan, John’s and Jesus’ followers coming together in combination with the presence of our Triune God = the voice of the Father, Jesus in the Jordan, and the hovering Spirit in the form of a dove.
A question: How did John (the evangelist) come to know so many intimate details about John the Baptist’s encounter with Jesus at the Jordan? It is generally assumed that James and his younger brother John were among the followers of the Baptist. It is likely this is how they, along with Peter and Andrew, first met Jesus. John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples who lived into old age and the only one who was not martyred for his faith. He can tell the story of Jesus from an old man’s perspective laced with the wisdom and vision that is a gift of the elderly…. pondering the essentials, sifting out the riff raft of gossip, suppositions and guess work [or, spicing up the stories with borrowed memories and supposed tidbits].
As we in community (and in our families) know so well, stories are a gift given by older members to newer members – the elders are the torch bearers; the younger the keepers of the torch who coax the sparks to keep the flame burning. Our future will be enriched by those who keenly listen and preserve the traditional word-of-mouth stories. This is what enriches our present by helping us better understand the past and the people who gave shape to our present. Stories of the “good old days” may get “old” but consider what we’d miss if John and the other evangelists had kept secret their experiences with Jesus.
As I said earlier: today we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with the 2020 theme: “They showed us unusual kindness.” This week has a 100-year history in which Christians around the world pray for the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper “that they all may be one.” It seems appropriate, too, that we have Teams of Our Lady sharing our space today. Our Lady graciously shared her Son with everyone without distinction.
In today’s world, much like the days of early Christianity, people are facing crises of migration, prejudice, violence and indifference. How can we show “unusual kindness” that is a witness to God’s loving providence for all people? When we invite people to “come and see” they are looking for more than a tour of our parish and monastery buildings and a list of the volunteer ministries. Our spirit of hospitality will have a ripple effect that makes visible Jesus love in today’s world.
Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3 John 1:29-34