Sunday, 17 January: “Near”

Reading – Philippians 4:4-8

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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The Wedding at Cana, painting from the Mafa Christian communities of North Cameroon

Saint Paul had a truly divine gift for expressing the joyous, profound, and brilliant mystery of God, and this section from his letter to Philippi is one of the best examples of it. In light of today’s mass readings, what most struck me was this brief but powerful statement: “The Lord is near.”

The nearness and intimacy of the infinite God shows in all of today’s Scripture passages, which, fittingly enough, seem to correspond with each of the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father in Isaiah, the Holy Spirit in Corinthians, and the Son in the Gospel of John.

In Isaiah, the Lord is coming to Israel and Jerusalem in particular to redeem and save their people and to then rejoice in them “as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride” (62:5). The image of marriage to express the covenant relationship between God and Israel occurs frequently in the Old Testament, and here in Isaiah it reminds us how deeply the Lord loves us and how much He longs for us to accept that love and run into His embrace.

In the first Letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the “manifestation of the Spirit” and the unique gifts it produces and magnifies in every person (12:7). God is present in our skills and our very selves, and we can bring God more fully into our lives and the world by accepting these gifts and using them to praise God and serve others. The variety of spiritual gifts also reminds us that the Lord moves in, lives in, and cares for eery person, not just those people we like or find useful.

The Gospel today describes the first sign of Jesus, the initial manifestation of his purpose and his self that launched his ministry. This sign came earlier than he expected, with Mary requesting that he help the married couple when they ran out of wine. Jesus did help and performed a miracle, not out of a nepotistic preference for his mother but rather due to the human need in the situation. Jesus manifested himself at the wedding in Cana as the servant and savior of all people – not a select few, but all, loved equally and infinitely by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mary recognized that it was time for Jesus’ manifestation even when he did not, and she again helped proclaim the Lord to the world.

Finally, Paul again tells us how near God is to us in his letter to the Philippians, even closer to us than we are to ourselves. We can experience and rejoice in God both in His infinitude and Other-ness and in His nearness, but we often forget the latter. We need to become aware of the presence of God in and among us, His closeness in our everyday lives, and accept it. In doing so, we will encounter the righteousness, the gifts, and the miracles of God more than we can imagine.

May we see you near and in us, Lord, and let you remain. ~

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