One morning before dawn, Jesus slipped away from where he was staying at Peter’s house to be alone in the wilderness and to pray. The night before he had been ministering to crowds and healing their sick. We can well imagine that he needed a break from them. But then Peter and his companions find Jesus, and say to him, “Everyone is looking for you!”
In these sermons we have been following the sayings of Jesus, but sometimes, as here, it can be equally informative to reflect on what is said to Jesus. This Gospel story reflects the dual nature of the call. It comes from within and without. The call comes in times of solitude and payer, in the times we spend alone with God. But the call can also be discerned in what our fellow human beings are asking of us. When people are naming our gifts and talents for us, when they are asking for particular kinds of service from us, that too can be a telling clue as to the nature of our vocation. And when the call from within and the call from without coincide, then we can be sure we have been shown our path.
When Peter and his companions find Jesus and say to him, “Everyone is looking for you,” he responds to the call by saying, “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do.”
And now I want to jump ahead to end of my message, by saying to each of you what Peter and his companions said to Jesus: “Everyone is looking for you!”
“Everyone is looking for you!” How does it feel to hear that? Do you feel honored? Scared? I know there are times when the thought that everyone is looking for me makes me want to hide! And indeed, these days it often seems that everyone wants a piece of you. And yet, who wants to be hidden forever? I recall what it was like to play hide and seek as a child. It is fun up to a point to be hidden and not have people find you. But if you find too good a hiding place and too much time goes by, you get nervous. What if they have forgotten about me and started to play another game? What if no one wants to find me? We hide in order to be sought out.
No one can find us unless we are first missing. And the times of hiding do have their value. The call to spend time alone with God is described in the passage from Hosea. We read, “I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” God is speaking here of Israel, which as always represents the spiritually centered part of ourselves. It is that part of us which faithful and obedient to God’s call. That part of is called to inner reflection.
The benefits of the time spent with alone with God are described as the passage unfolds. First is greater intimacy with God: “On that day, you will call me my husband and no longer my Lord.” The second is greater fruitfulness: “For there I will give her vineyards.” And third is inner peace: “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you to lie down in safety.” Correspondentially, the wild animals, the birds and the creeping things are the parts of our personal make up, namely, our thoughts, our feelings, and our senses. When these have been brought into inner peace, then peace comes to the “land,” that is, to our outer lives.
The peace and the fruitfulness that come to us in our times of “hiding,” or better, in our times of being alone with God, give us all the more to contribute to the kingdom of God on earth. And thus we become all the more sought out. In the Zen tradition, it is said that after one has spent years alone in the mountain cave and has attained enlightenment, he or she returns to the village to chop wood and carry water. One engages in the simplest of practical tasks but in such a way that one’s inner peace is shared with others. Jesus too frequented the “mountains” but then he would come back down to heal the crowds.
So again, I say to you what Peter and his companions said to Jesus: Everyone is looking for you! Everyone is looking for your special talents. Everyone is looking for the wisdom that has come from your unique life experience. Everyone is looking for the love that only you have to offer.
May all of us here today hear that call, and having heard it, may we be inspired to say as Jesus said, “Come, let us go to the neighboring towns, to proclaim the message, for that is what I came out to do.”