Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 8, 23-9, 3 + Psalm 27 + 1 Corinthians 1, 10-13, 17 + Matthew 4, 12-23
And so it begins for Jesus. The preliminaries in Matthew’s Gospel are over, and the break with John the Baptist is made. To initiate the beginning and the break, Matthew moves Jesus out of Nazareth and up to Capernaum, big city for its time in a strategic location. Because of its importance it was a city full of gentiles unlike Jerusalem, so exclusively Jewish. Something is a little different in the way Jesus goes about his work from the very beginning. Rabbis at the time were sought out by their disciples. They did not go looking or inviting. It was the other way around. Already we can see that with Jesus things are not going to be the way they have always been.
There is an important, but easily missed detail to this call that is essential to understanding the universality of this invitation. Without understanding this, the invitation seems special making the call somehow unique setting those called apart from the rest. Given the inclusive nature of the mission Jesus begins, I’m not sure that this was his intent.
Notice that he calls fishermen to fish. He does not ask them to stop fishing. A response to his call does not mean that they had to forget what they knew or quit using the skills they had. This description of the call is about a transformation of their life’s work that would be possible were they to leave some things behind.
When we then hear the call to repentance a question should arise. “From what?” We must ask ourselves again and again what it is we must turn away from in order to prepare for the Reign of God. From our work? I don’t think so. Based on the fact that he expected them to continue to fish, I do not think repentance means quitting or changing jobs. For these fishermen it means they will no longer be merchants out to gain something for themselves. They would no longer work only for profit, money, power, prestige. Competition among them would be over with. They would not work together, not chasing the fish or the mighty denarii or the “dollar” of that day. They would offer themselves in service for others seeking the Reign of God.
This is a real, personal, and serious kind of repentance that does not mean you run off to a monastery or convent to respond to the call. It suggests that everyone is called, and that the call is universal. Everyone is invited into this life and mission. Responding does not then mean quitting your job and what is necessary to sustain daily life. It does mean accepting the call and the grace to be free from the encumbrance of our own opinions and viewpoints, ideologies and prejudices that prevent us from joining others to proclaim and live in the joy of God’s Kingdom. It does mean that the purpose of our work and how go about our work is different. Instead of being totally focused on profit and career advancement, those who hear the call of Jesus will be always aware of those around them. They will be conscious of and careful about the how their work and the decisions they make affect and impact the lives of others. This is a radical transformation. This is exactly what is involved and required of Disciples of Christ.
Our Holy Father, Francis has spoken of this recently. He reminds us that we are all called first to live charitably which means not looking out for our own interests, but carrying the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us. He recently said this: “How marvelous it would be if, at the end of the day, each of us could say: “Today I have performed an act of charity towards others.”
Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ does not require a degree in theology. As we sometimes say today, it is not “rocket science.” It is simply charity, an openness to all without judgment. A willingness to be free from opinions and the confines of prejudice and open to what may happen with a life lived in harmony with Christ and God’s will.
Centuries ago a group of fishermen was chosen by Jesus to bring good news to their land and culture. Jesus was a light shining in a very dark world, a nation that had been invaded, conquered, and subjected by foreign powers. The people he chose were to carry his light to the far reaches of the civilized world. They did that, and each of us is living proof. Yet we are still in a very dark world. Our culture is dark too, shouting a message that money, looks, and material goods are the measure of our value and success. Yet we must believe that the measure of greatness for a society is found in the way treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart of their poverty. The mission has not changed, and God is still calling people to the mission, calling them at work to work. Calling them from darkness to light. God is still calling us where we work and where we live to be transformed by the light. We can change our society by changing ourselves. Then Light will break forth again, and darkness will fade. With joy we shall become fishers of men as we are called to become by our baptism and the light we received on that day.