January 7, 2018

1st Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-6; 13-18
John 1:43-51


One day, someone asked Mother Theresa of Calcutta, India, “What do you say to God in your prayer?” Mother Theresa answered, “I don’t speak, I listen.” “And what God says to you?” asked the interviewer. “God also doesn’t speak, God listens,” answered Mother Theresa.

In your prayers, how many times do you choose to listen rather than to speak? How many times do you seek what God wants you to do rather than telling God what you want? Friends, prayer should be more about listening and less about talking. We are created with two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as often as we speak.

Perhaps, we need to learn from little Samuel. His ears were opened and his mind was ready to receive guidance. In our passage this morning from the first book of Samuel, each time God called his name, he came and said to Eli, his mentor, “Here I am, for you called me.” Once he knew that it was actually God who had been calling him, he said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

How many times have we said these words in our prayers? How many times have we said to God, “Speak Lord,” instead of, “Listen God”? No wonder that Jesus once said that only those who were like children who could enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Little Samuel had the right kind of attitude that Jesus alluded to in his saying and that we all are to aspire to.

Indeed, what we need is a heart like Samuel's; a heart of a humble servant; a heart that is open to God’s guidance; a heart that is ready to put aside ourselves – our ego, our desire, our greed - so that we can let God’s will be done in our life. Like Samuel, we are called to be the beholders, not the performers; listeners, not the speakers. We are called to be the students, not the teachers. We are called to be like Jewish disciples, sitting at the feet of their rabbis, learning from their masters. We are called to be learners and God our teacher all the days of our life.

One significant obstacle to our growth as a person is believing that we know everything because the moment we believe that we know everything is the moment when we stop thinking, stop exploring, and stop experiencing new thing; and the moment we stop doing these things is the moment when we stop growing as Jesus’ followers. A person with one of the greatest minds in human history, Albert Einstein, once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” If a genius like Albert Einstein could have such open and humble attitude, I don’t see any reason why we could not learn to be like him. Indeed, we are to have the kind of attitude that the psalmist of our psalm reading today expresses when he says:

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.”
(Psalm 139:17-18 - NRSV)

Our assurance is found not in what we know about God, but in what God knows about us. We will fool ourselves if we listen only to ourselves; if we stop learning from God and listening to God’s voice.

We are not alone. One of Jesus’s disciples, Nathaniel, also began his journey by being arrogant. He thought he knew everything. He had charted the world and its people and believed that nothing could be added to his map. He was like a green scientist who believes that he knows everything about the universe because he has finished his degree in university.

When Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, Nathaniel responded by saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” His world was closed. His glass was full. Unlike little Samuel who opened himself to God’s voice, Nathaniel was very skeptical about this man from Nazareth.

Yet, Nathaniel somehow relented and he went with Phillip, albeit reluctantly, to see Jesus. Indeed, just like in the popular image, Jesus was standing outside of Nathaniel’s home, knocking on the door, waiting to be invited in. But Nathaniel did not trust the man knocking and opened the door just a little to see Jesus’ face, perhaps out of curiosity. But that was enough because, after he met with Jesus face to face, his map of the world was turned upside down and his life was never be the same anymore.

Indeed, friends, openness is the main quality of a true disciple. To be Jesus’ disciples, we must open ourselves to what God is showing and telling us. But we cannot truly open ourselves to God if we are fully occupied with ourselves. A glass that is full cannot be filled with more water. Likewise, to hear God’s voice, we need to have enough room in our hearts and minds. We are to be like clay, willing to be shaped by God, our potter. But clay that cannot be molded by its potter is not worth anything; it will only be discarded. It will forever be clay and never be transformed into a beautiful pottery.

This reminds me of an encounter between two people from two very different worlds.

Abraham is a refugee from Sudan who now lives in Australia. When he first arrived in Australia, he only knew two words: ‘yes’ and ‘no’; and he often confused the two. Today, he is the Slam Poet Champion in Victoria and the third winner in the national competition. A few years ago, he was about to publish his second book and perform at Glastonbury festival, yet he was unable to find a secure job because of his background. He wouldn’t travel in the dark alone because he was often targeted because of the colour of his skin.

Nick comes from the opposite world. He was born and raised in Australia. He was one of the founders of a minor political party that believed that allowing African refugees like Abraham to come to Australia would only create problem. He believed that these refugees could not assimilate; that they were a welfare drain and a burden to the economy. He believed that people like Abraham had nothing to contribute to the society.

The two, however, decided not only to meet in person, but to live in each other’s house. They agreed to experience each other’s world. Abraham spent time with Nick's friends and vice versa. Despite their differences, they wanted to know one another person and learned more about one another.

We hear a similar message in our reading today from John’s Gospel. At the very heart of John’s Gospel is the invitation to see Jesus, to experience him ourselves, and to believe in him. John, the author of the Gospel, closes his book by saying:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe    that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 - NRSV)


Indeed, we are all invited to be like the people in the Samaritan village who were introduced to Jesus by a woman who spoke with Jesus at a well.

After meeting Jesus, the people in the village told the woman,

 “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:42 - NRSV)

In John’s Gospel, the word see occurs 49 times and almost all of the occurrences appeared in relation to Jesus: his work, his glory, etc.[1] For example, in the beginning of John’s Gospel, we meet John the Baptist who proclaimed,

“See, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

It was John the Baptist’s role to invite people to see Jesus, to meet him, and to accept him as their Lord and Saviour. Just like Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, John, the author of John’s Gospel, also invited people to meet with Jesus in his Gospel, to experience him, and to finally accept him into their life.

Philip’s invitation to Nathaniel was to leave behind his old presumptions and prejudices and to open himself to a new experience. As such, his invitation to Nathaniel was an invitation to us all. We too are invited to come and see Jesus; to leave behind our presumptions and prejudices so that we can have a new experience with Christ. We are invited to listen to him so that he can guide us through the journey of our life.


Toby Keva

[1] David Ewart, Introduction to John, on www.holytextures.com (extracted on 05/01/2015)