Paul Knitter’s Homily from January 21, 2018

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies Leave a Comment

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jan 21, 2018

1 Sam 3:1-20; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1: 14-20


“There’s a Lot to Hear, If We Just Listen”


  1. In the luck of the draw of readings that homilists face every Sunday, I’m not very lucky today. This Sunday’s three readings, each rich in itself, are a bit disjointed.


  • So allow me to do a bit of creative (that means free-wheeling) exegesis or biblical interpretation. I want to be true to the text, but not limited by the text. And my interpretative lens will be colored by my Buddhist practice.


  • I’d like to make connections between three verses, one from each of the three readings:
  • From 1 Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
  • Jumping to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled; the Realm of God has come near.”
  • Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Mourn as if you are not mourning. Rejoice as if you are not rejoicing. Use this world as if you are not using it.”


  1. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


  1. This verse clearly emphasizes the necessity of listening. Buddhists would call it the necessity of mindfulness, or awareness, or attentiveness.
  • Both Jews and Buddhists agree that there’s something to be heard, something is being spoken or communicated to us– if we would just listen up. (Of course, Buddhists would be hesitant to personalize that something as a speaker.)


  • So, the title of my sermon: “There’s a lot to hear, if we just listen.” If we can just hear what is to be heard, it would, as the text has it “make our ears tingle.”


  1. But in this reading from the Book of Samuel, God seems to speak mainly in particular, special occasions. The text states: “I’m about to say and do something [special] in Israel.” The idea is that something’s coming in the future.


  • “The time is fulfilled; the Realm of God has come near.”


  1. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, announces what Richard Rohr in his meditation for this past Thursday calls “the guiding image of Jesus’ entire ministry”: The Realm of God.
  • “The time is fulfilled; the Realm of God has come near.”  — Perhaps a clearer translation of the Greek would be: “It’s time! The Realm of God is now, right now.”  The Greek verb “eggizo” means near enough to be touched. It’s right here, right in front of us.


  1. There’s a general consensus among NT scholars that Jesus’ notion of the Realm of God is paradoxical: He experienced God’s presence and power as both fully present and yet still to come – already and not yet.
  • Similar to the Buddhist understanding of the non-duality between the present and the future. Whatever the future is, it’s available right now; the future is to be realized by being fully present to the now.


  1. Jesus’ awareness of the Realm of God comes out of what Marcus Borg calls Jesus’ mystical experience.
  • Deepening his Jewish tradition, Jesus experienced the mysterious, all-powerful, non-pronounceable Jahweh as a reality he could call “Abba” – a loving, grounding, sustaining parental Presence. 


  • This Abba-presence was also called Spirit – an energy that was always available, always holding and sustaining and inspiring him. And of course, this Abba was also “our Abba,” our Father or Mother, sustaining all of us, constantly.


  • So in Mark’s Gospel, right after the line “the Realm of God is here,” we read: “So repent and trust this good news.” – In other words, listen up! Open your ears and heart. There’s something to be heard here that will turn around your lives. Or in 1 Samuel’s language, “make your ears tingle.”


  1. But the difference from 1 Samuel, which understood the “tingling” message to come in special moments, for Jesus, the Holy Mystery he called Abba was always there, always available.
  • While there may be particularly powerful experiences and expressions of the Abba-Mystery (such as Jesus himself), it is always present, always going on – always available even in those moments, such as the cross, when it seems Jesus lost hold of it. Though he felt abandoned, he entrusted his spirit into the hands of this Abba-Mystery.


  • The problem is that while the Abba-Mystery is always present, we’re not! We have to listen, we have to be mindful, aware, open, trusting.


  • This message and example of Jesus presents us with the possibility of being mindful of, and trusting of, this Abba-Mystery that is always “near,” always available in every moment of our lives, both personal as well as social and political moments.


  • What this means is suggested, I think, by our reading from Paul. – And this is the most difficult or paradoxical part of this homily; to be honest, I’m not sure I understand what I’m trying to say now.


  1. “Mourn as if you are not mourning. Rejoice as if you are not rejoicing. Use this world as if you are not using it.”


  1. What I think Paul is getting at here is the way that mindfulness of, or listening to, the abiding presence of Abba, can enable us to fully engage in life, to fully take on life’s joys and sorrows, life’s personal and political activities, without being either attached to them or controlled by them.


  • My Buddhist practice has helped me understand how this works: Buddhist teachers point out how the more we can become mindful of the present moment – and that means mindful of our Buddha-nature, or of what I call the Abba-Mystery – the more we are also mindful of how limited and limiting our thoughts or judgments really are.
  • These thoughts, judgments, feelings – of mourning and rejoicing, of loving our partners, of political action motivated by anger or hope – they are all real; we have them, we feel them.  But mindfulness tells us that they are never the whole picture.
  • There is the danger that thoughts and feelings will so consume us, or we will so cling to them, that they prevent us from seeing the bigger picture – the reality of Abba’s presence and love and creativity that holds us constantly, in and through these thoughts and feelings and actions.


  1. So the more we can return to this bigger picture of Abba-presence in the midst of our actions and feelings, the more we will be freed to really engage in them without clinging to them or being controlled by them.
  • By mourning or rejoicing as if we are not mourning and rejoicing – that is, mourning and rejoicing within the bigger picture of Abba-presence – we are freed to really mourn and rejoice and engage the world. By being mindful of Abba-Mystery, we can have our thoughts or feelings without them having us; we can engage in projects and political actions without clinging to the results of those actions. There is always the larger reality of God’s Realm or Abba’s presence that grounds and sustains us.


  • In talking with my wife Cathy about how to make this clear, we came up with what might serve as an example of what it is to mourn as if you are not mourning, to mourn within a larger reality that holds our morning: An Irish Wake!   There is genuine mourning, but it takes place within the larger reality of family and friends and ongoing life. People are really mourning but at the same time they are not mourning in the larger energy of life and love, what I would call Abba-Mystery.


  1. But to so act as if we are not acting, to mourn and rejoice as if we were not mourning and rejoicing requires that we, like Samuel, listen, be mindful of the bigger reality of Abba presence.
  • And that takes practice – some form of regular meditative practice, such as Centering Prayer, or silent meditation, where we practice letting go of limiting thoughts and impressions in order to just listen in open awareness.


  • But our Eucharistic liturgy this morning is also supposed to be a contemplative practice that we do together. In the symbolism of breaking bread and remembering the Jesus story, Abba-presence, as embodied and exemplified in Jesus, is present, is speaking.


  • Speak, Abba, for your servants are listening.



Paul Knitter

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