Trained to think and look at things in a Greek way, we “First-World” people have a hard time reading and understanding the Bible. This is especially true when we go to the Scriptures looking for answers to specific problems. The sacred authors thought and looked at thing as Semites, not Greeks. For such people, there’s no one answer for any specific problem. Just when we think their writings have provided us a response to our question and start to turn away hugging our treasure, the author pulls us back to the book with the statement: “But, on the other hand...!” By nature, Semites always have more than one answer for any question. If they can’t come up with at least a handful of responses, they’d be accused of not thinking deeply enough about the problem.

God’s call

This multiple-answer syndrome is verified in Sunday’s readings. Especially in our first and third passages, the question revolves around what it means for God to call someone. As I’ve mentioned in other columns, each biblical writer resumes everyone reading his or her work has received a specific, personal call from God. Every reader is interested in how God calls, to what God calls and how one should respond to that call. The author of the first reading (I Sam 3: 3-10, 19) gives us Samuel, the hero of his narrative, as an example for those who first hear God calling them. The reading beings with a biblical version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” routine. Only after Eli finally realizes Yahweh’s calling the boy does he tell him how to respond: in this case, “Speak, your servant is listening.” The sacred authors are convinced that God doesn’t tell us what He wants us to do until we first assure Him that we’re listening. They believe God’s always calling, but only those listening for such a call ever hear it. Those who refuse to listen either hear nothing or think the “voice” is coming from somewhere or someone else.

New name

But that valuable insight isn’t the last word on calls. John the Evangelist approaches divine invitations from another angle. In the Gospel (Jn 1: 35-42), Jesus doesn’t give His first three disciples an actual call. The initial pair are simply looking for something. When they eventually discover that Jesus is “where it’s at,” Andrew leaves, gets his brother Simon, and brings him to Jesus. At this point, one of the most significant effects of someone’s responding to a call happens: a name change. Because Semites believe a name represents an individual’s personality, name changes are a way of describing a shift in someone’s value system. Responding to God’s call always transforms us into new persons. Here, the Cephas who went away from Jesus was no longer the Simon who came to Him. Though Paul doesn’t explicitly mention any call in the second reading (I Cor 6: 1-15, 17-20), the implications of being called runs all through the passage. According to the Apostle, once we respond to Jesus’ call to imitate His dying and rising, our relationship with everything and everyone around us changes - even our relationship with our own bodies. Because our Christian faith makes us one with the risen Jesus, our whole self, including our bodies, become “members of Christ.” That means that any immorality we conjure up has repercussions not only in our body, but also in the whole body of Christ. Once we respond to Jesus’ call, the effects of our personal actions become broader than our person. We’re no longer “our own.” Those who turn to Scripture in search of a single answer to their question about calls from God will quickly discover that they’re holding in their hands not one response, but a whole book of answers.