Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 22, 2017
Reading 1IS 8:23—9:3
Responsorial PsalmPS 27:1, 4, 13-14
Reading 21 COR 1:10-13, 17
Homily— January 21 & 22, 2017
Matthew tells us that when John the Baptist was arrested that Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum which is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Scripture scholars understood this as a courageous taking up of his mission and as a move to greater safety.Nazareth was too centrally located near the government center of Sepphoris. In addition by living at Capernaum on the NW bank of the Sea of Galilee it would be easy to slip away at night in a boat to other places.
Now “Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” He came upon the two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew. He says “come after me” and Matthew writes that “at once they left their nets and followed him.” Then Jesus sees two other brothers, James and John in a boat with their father mending nets and He calls them “and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” Here the New Jerome Biblical Commentary states “Yet here the story may have undergone extreme compression; in reality there may have been some chance for a psychological growth in attraction, which would make such an important decision more understandable.”
Another way to look at the call of these disciples is that they were called to follow a person, not an institution with particular sets of rules or regulations. I believe they knew enough about Jesus and his charismatic personality that it was quite easy to drop what they were doing and to change their occupation to become fishers of men! But what did their families think about this? What did their wives say?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor executed by the Nazis, insisted that when Jesus said “Follow me,” the disciples did just that. He says in The Cost of Discipleship: “Until that day.. .they could remain in obscurity, pursuing their work. . . observing the law and waiting for the coming of the Messiah.” But, he says, with Jesus’ call they had to get up and go They could have stayed as they were, and Jesus could have been their friend, even their consoler, but he would not have been their Lord.
Somehow Jesus’ message unsettled those fishermen. Jesus’ call to conversion is described with the Greek term metanoia, a word which means more than repent. Metanoia was an invitation to an alternative reality, a new kind of existence. Jesus named that new existence the reigning of God, or in Matthew’s words, the kingdom of heaven. It is not a place, but a way of being. Jesus showed what it was like in everything he said and did. Matthew gave it a shorthand description saying that Jesus went all around, proclaiming the kingdom, making it present by curing every disease and illness—making everything the way it ought to be. An encounter with Jesus was an encounter with the reigning of God and an instant invitation to metanoia .It set people on fire like a CEW or a retreat or First Communion or Confirmation or Holy Matrimony or Ordination or an hour of prayer. These are not in any way equal in grace but they all are opportunities to open ourselves to God’s plan in our lives. The greatest obstacle to metanoia, Jesus’ greatest adversary, was not the demons or the power of oppression. It was an attitude of submission to the way things had always been, the belief that nothing can really change, that heaven might be different but that history will always repeat itself.
Metanoia is not something the disciples could achieve, they could only be open to it. When it was offered, they had to make a decision, the most important decision of their lives.They had to decide whether to believe in what Jesus offered, to accept him as Lord, or simply respect him as another interesting philosopher whose ideas they could talk about when the seas were calm. We hear about the fishermen who decided to leave behind everything that tied them to “normal life.” In the very act of leaving their boats, they were opening themselves to what Jesus was offering. They would no longer be fishermen.Rather than catch food to sell to nourish others, they themselves would become the nourishment others needed. Rather than being tied to one family, one neighborhood, they would also receive a hundred times more. And who’s to say their own wives and children didn’t share their decision and travel with them on the road?
Their radical decision was not irrevocable.They had to renew it time and again. Day by day they had to bet their lives on what they knew of Jesus’ kingdom of heaven. They had to believe that God’s reigning was manifest in their relationship with Jesus and the life he shared with them and that its power overruled everything that could rise up against them.
Each of us is called to make the same decision. We have to choose either to regard Christianity as a nice idea, a comfort in difficult times or to make the following of Christ the only thing that makes sense of our life.
In Isaiah we hear of a “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The disciples saw and followed the great light and became that light Will we follow that light and be that light for each other?