In the Catholic tradition this is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the Protestant and Reformed traditions using the Revised Common Lectionary, this is the Second Sunday of the Season of Epiphany. I think I rather prefer that name. It keeps alive the celebration of Epiphany, the season of what is revealed. It keeps alive the challenge for us to continually see the truth. Even in the turmoil and unsettling times in which we live. We are not the first to live in such times.
On December 24th, 1914, French and British troop in the western trenches faces their enemies, the Germans in the eastern trenches – separated by the killing zone of “no man’s land.” German soldiers in their WWI trenches received fir trees as a morale booster to decorate their otherwise morbid surroundings. Their thoughts turned to Christmas and they began to sing Christmas carols, which echoed out across the quiet battlefield. Soon, British, German, and French soldiers across the battlefield began singing in response. The Christmas Eve celebration was not limited to a few isolated pockets of soldiers; thousands of soldiers across kilometers of trenches found themselves naturally pursuing a truce with the enemy soldiers, meeting in the middle of “no man’s land.” Soldiers look to their left and right, and while the uniforms said they are enemies, the ritual of Christmas carols revealed common pilgrims seeking the Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, heads of state and their generals plotted invasions and attacks, as the foot soldiers and their field officers opted for peace and unity. On the ground in no-mans-land, they saw something a new, different from what they had been told about the other. They saw a new possibility.
Epiphany is a season of light and revelation, a season of searching, discovering, of new possibilities. It is a time to let the light of Christ permeate the whole of our lives so that we see differently from what we have been told; that we see new possibilities.
Our readings this Sunday are all about seeing. In our first reading, we meet the priest Eli who is mentor of the young boy Samuel. In the verses just before our reading begins, we hear: “During the time … the word of the LORD was scarce and vision infrequent… His eyes had lately grown so weak that he could not see.” In the beginning Samuel can’t quite see he is being called by God.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul urges his readers to see themselves rightly, to understand that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Not cheap and expendable commodities, but sacred vessels bought at a high price for the glory of God.
And in our Gospel reading, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon sons of John, sees deeply into the latter – “you will be called Cephas – which is translated Peter.” Turn the page from our gospel and they find Philip who finds Nathanael who thinks he knows exactly who God is and how God operates. Nathanael remarks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth isn’t good enough for the divine. But in the encounter with Jesus, Nathanael moves from doubt to faith, from ignorance to knowledge. He experiences an epiphany. He sees new possibilities.
What have we seen in these last days? The scenes we saw live on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th – what was revealed in the storming of the Capitol? What has been revealed in all the reruns of the same events? I find it hard to watch. I don’t want to see it…but I can’t look away. But how does this Season of Epiphany call us to see differently from what we assume about what was televised? Can we see new possibilities? In the no-man’s land of this transition of leadership, we have choices.
And we can find comfort in all of readings today. At their core, they are not about what Nathanael, Eli or any disciple sees; it’s about what Jesus sees.
Jesus had a choice when it came to Simon Peter. He could have called out Peter’s impulsiveness and his ability to miss the point of so many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Jesus had a choice when he encountered Nathanael. He could have called out the cynic, doubter or the one operating out of prejudice. Jesus saw deeper into each of their true character. In each Jesus names the quality he wanted to bless and bring to the fore as a disciple, a carrier of the light of Christ in the world.
Is it possible for us to see our present moment as Jesus sees it? Instead of deciding that we know everything there is to know about the political “others” in our lives, can we ask God for fresh vision? Instead of assuming that “nothing good” can come of the cultural mess we find ourselves in, can we accept Jesus’ invitation to “come and see?” What would happen if we left our comfortable vantage points, and dared to believe that just maybe, we have been limited and hasty in our original certainties about each other? To “come and see” is to approach all of life with a grace-filled curiosity, to believe that we are holy mysteries to each other, worthy of further exploration. To come and see is to enter into the realization and joy of being deeply seen and deeply known, and to have the very best that lies hidden within us called out and called forth.
We have choices.Will we come out from the trenches of our battlelines and meet the other in no-mans-land? Will we look to our left and right, and while the signs and slogans may say to us that they are the enemy, can we, like Jesus, name the quality we want to bless, and so together seek the Prince of Peace. We have a choice. We always have a choice. We are always called, like Samuel, like Simon Peter – ever called to be disciples of the Prince of Peace – along with the people on our left and right.