Sunday, January 16, 2011

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Call of Care

Sisters and brothers, do you remember Tarzan of the Apes? I think there are probably some of us here who may still remember him. As a boy, I used to love watching Tarzan cartoons on TV. From childhood, Tarzan was raised by the great apes. And later, when he had grown into a man, he became the Lord and protector of the jungle. If I remember correctly, although every episode of the cartoon tells a different story, they all also usually follow a similar pattern. They begin with something bad happening, something that breaks the peace. There is a cry for help. And Tarzan comes to save the day. He comes to restore order to the jungle. But he usually doesn’t do this all by himself. Often he calls his friends, the jungle animals, for help. And he does it in a very unmistakable way. Probably the most memorable and distinctive thing about the Tarzan character, is his call. Do you remember what it sounds like? I hope so, because I’m not going to try to reproduce it for you now.

Whenever there is trouble in the jungle, Tarzan comes to save the day. But he comes to restore order in a very particular manner. He cares for the jungle by calling upon the jungle animals for help. In this way, the animals end up playing two roles at once. In addition to being the ones who are being protected, by responding to Tarzan’s call, the animals also lend a hand in doing the protecting. And, with their help, peace is again restored to the jungle.

This pattern of caring for the jungle by involving those who live in it bears a striking resemblance to what we find in our prayers and readings for Mass today. For we believe that just as Tarzan protects and cares for the jungle, so too does God our Father protect and care for our world. As we said in our opening prayer just now, God’s watchful care... orders all things in such power that even the tensions and the tragedies of sin cannot frustrate God’s loving plans. And, just as Tarzan does with the animals, God chooses to care for the world by calling upon those who live in it for help. 

We see this in the first reading, where the people of Israel are suffering. They are living in exile in Babylon. But God hears and answers their cry for help by calling, from among them, a servant who will come to restore peace. Not only will this servant of God restore the survivors of Israel, but he will also become a light to the nations so that God’s saving power might be felt to the ends of the earth.

This promise made by God in the first reading finds its ultimate fulfillment in the gospel. Here, Jesus is the One formed as God’s servant from the womb of Mary his Mother. Jesus is the One called by God to be the light to the nations. He comes to restore peace to the chaotic jungle that is our world. But here is also where we are brought face to face with a great mystery, the same mystery that we have been pondering during the Christmas season. For we believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. As fully divine, Jesus is the one called by God to come and save us from our sins. But as fully human – as one who has been tempted like us in every way, but without sin (Hb 4:15) – Jesus is also someone who calls out to the Father for help. Not unlike Tarzan’s animal friends, here in the one person of Jesus, we find someone who plays two roles at once. Jesus calls out to the Father on our behalf, even as he comes to us as God’s answer to our cry for help.

But that’s not all. This great mystery is not just about Jesus. It also has deeper implications for us. For as John the Baptist reminds us in the gospel, we have all been baptized into Christ and in his Spirit. We Christians make up the Body of Christ on this earth. The two roles played by Jesus are now to be played by us. Not only are we to cry out to God for help in times of trouble, we are also called by God to lend a hand in caring for the rest of the world.

Isn’t this dual role also what Paul is writing about in the second reading? Not only does Paul refer to the Corinthians as those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he also reminds them that they themselves are also called by God to be holy. For Paul, then, Christians are people who both call on God for help, and who are called by God to help others.

And the same two roles are to be found in our responsorial psalm too. The psalmist begins by speaking of how he cried to the Lord for help, of how he waited for the Lord, and how the Lord finally stooped toward me and heard my cry. But the psalmist doesn’t stop there. He goes on to speak of how he himself has responded to God’s call, of how he announced the Lord’s justice in the vast assembly. Here am I, Lord, he says, I come to do your will.

Calling upon the Lord, and heeding the Lord’s call. These are the two activities, the two inseparable roles, that our readings present to us today. Calling upon the Lord for protection, and heeding the Lord’s call to help protect others. These are also the roles that our world urgently needs us to take on today. For whether it is in our homes or on our streets, whether it is locally or overseas, it often seems as though the world in which we live is continually being threatened by violence of some sort. Our world needs the protection and care of Christ. Our world needs to hear and to hear again the Word of love and compassion, the message of justice and peace, for which Christ died and rose again. And from where will the world experience this care, from whom will it hear this message, if not the Body of Christ. Each of us, in our own little corner of the world, is called to lend a hand in this task. Each of us is called to do what John the Baptist does in the gospel: to make known and to make real the protection and care of Christ. In those famous words of St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Sisters and brothers, when there’s trouble in the jungle, and Tarzan’s call rings out, the animals come running. There is trouble in our world today. God is calling. Are we running yet?

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