SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)
I want to begin our reflection on today's readings by first looking at a different scene from the gospels. Elsewhere (Mt 19:16-17), a rich man asks Jesus, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus responds to him with another question. "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good." Jesus is referring to God, the source of all goodness (Lk 18:19). Jesus goes on to tell the rich man that he must first obey God's commandments, and finally sell everything he owns to enter the kingdom of heaven.
We may read that gospel story and wonder why Jesus first gives the "smart-alecky" answer before He gives the "real" answer. Obviously the real answer to the rich man's question is the one Jesus gives second - obey the commandments, sell your possessions, etc. - right? Jesus was just trying to make a point about God being all-good with His first comment.
I suggest that if we read that passage in that way, we have it backwards. Jesus was not a smart-alec. He said exactly what He meant. The rich man asked Jesus what good deed must I do to gain eternal life, and Jesus essentially tells him that there is no good he can do. For there is only One who is good, and that is God. All goodness comes from God, therefore if you or I want to do good, we must participate in God's goodness (hence the second part of Jesus' answer, to obey the commandments).
There is an ancient heresy called Pelagianism, named after the fourth century British monk, Pelagius, who first espoused it. His heresy was the denial of original sin. Pelagius believed that the sin of Adam and Eve only set a bad example for the rest of humankind to follow. We are not born into sin, according to the Pelagian view, and so it is theoretically possible (though very difficult) to live a sinless life. Were this heresy true, it would mean that we could essentially "save ourselves" by living virtuously. After all, if we never fall into sin, then we wouldn't need a Christ to save us.
Heroic saints such as St. Augustine argued vehemently against Pelagius, whose heresy was officially condemned by the Church. But traces of it live on to this day among Christians who believe that the way to make it into heaven is simply to be good. They are looking to themselves, rather than to Christ, as the source of their salvation.
What does any of this have to do with today's readings? When we recognize that God is the source of all goodness, all truth, and all beauty, we can begin to understand that the work of our salvation can only be accomplished by God and not by our own hands. Our job is to cooperate with God and allow Him to do His work in us. Our job is to "show up."
Please understand, what I speak of is not the Protestant heresy of sola fide ("faith alone"), which in many ways is the polar opposite error of Pelagianism. The heresy of salvation by faith alone as espoused by Martin Luther teaches that our good works are irrelevant to our salvation. If we have faith in Christ, it does not matter what we do or fail to do; Christ will save us regardless. This idea runs counter to the scriptures, where we find, among other things, Christ judging us at the end of time according to our deeds of charity (Mt 25:31-46).
The good we do in this life matters. In fact, you could go so far as to say that we were made to do good. Just as the purpose of our minds is to know the truth, and the purpose of our hearts is to love the beautiful, the purpose of our will is to do the good. But where do we find the source of all that is true, beautiful and good? Only in God. Therefore for our minds, hearts and wills to be properly aligned and capable of achieving their end, they must be oriented toward God.
That brings us back to our theme of showing up. When Goodness, Truth and Beauty call, step one is to answer. So Samuel in today's first reading, (1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19), even though he "was not familiar with the Lord" yet, heard His call in the night and replied, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." In today's gospel reading (Jn 1:35-42), John the Baptist points Jesus out to his followers and tells them, "Behold, the Lamb of God." Andrew and John heed the call and seek to stay with Jesus. Andrew then brings his brother Simon to Jesus. The gospel tells us, "they stayed with Him." They showed up.
This is the beginning of learning to do good. This is the beginning of faith. This is the beginning of eternal life. Be willing and ready to answer God's call. Allow yourself to be drawn to His goodness as a moth is to the flame. Desire, like the apostles in today's gospel, to be in His presence. Allow God to transform you into His disciple. Allow Him to transform you into a saint.
C. S. Lewis points out in The Great Divorce that ultimately one of two things will happen to us. Either we say to God, "Thy will be done," and we allow Him to form us into saints fit for heaven; or He will say to us, "Thy will be done," and He allows us to have our own way, which leads to hell. Only God's will is good, therefore our wills must be aligned to His in order for them to seek good. Otherwise our will is for evil.
Therefore let us choose that first path. God is calling you today and every day. Let us be willing to answer that call, today and every day, with the psalmist, "Here am I, Lord; I come to do Your will."