3rd. Sunday of Year (A)
(Isaiah 8:23-9:3; 1st. Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23.)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, in our readings today it is somewhat difficult for us to focus closely on Jesus because of the beautiful messianic quotes from Isaiah; therefore I will now recall to your minds the actual, on the ground, situation when Jesus began His public ministry:
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested He withdrew to Galilee, (and then) leaving Nazareth He went to live in Capernaum by the sea. From that time on Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ As He was walking by the sea of Galilee He saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men.’
How very intriguing those few words must have been for the two brothers! This was not the very first time they had encountered Jesus, they had learned of Him from John the Baptist (JB to Andrew to Peter), and at the recent Passover festival in Jerusalem they had witnessed, or at least heard eye-witness reports of, His remarkable activity and confrontations with Temple authorities, plus subsequent marvellous happenings on the way back to Galilee. In other words, Peter and Andrew already knew quite a bit about Jesus.
Today however, things were different somehow, very different. Jesus was starting something new --- His divinely commissioned Public Ministry --- and He was authoritatively intent on directly choosing disciples to follow Him now and accompany Him on His missionary journeys, that they might thus learn at first hand His purposes and His ways, so that, ultimately, they might be able not only to continue His work in Israel but even extend it world-wide.
Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men!
What an ideal, perfect, call for men for men such as Simon and Andrew: few words indeed, but full of meaning, promise, and challenge! At once, they left their nets and living and followed Him. See, there, People of God, how imperious a vocation to follow Jesus can be, and is, essentially!
Going further He saw James and John in a boat with their father Zebedee,
He called them,
and though we do not know what specific words of invitation He used, the fact is that His words lit up a firebrand in their hearts which remained with them throughout their lives with Him and for Him, earning them the appropriate nickname of ‘sons of thunder’:
and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed Him.
Now, People of God, can we, dare we, say that Jesus wants all of us -- who like to think of ourselves as modern-day disciples of Jesus -- to have something of that original spirit of absolute, unquestioning commitment manifested by those first specially chosen Apostles, in our relationship with Him?
Could it, perhaps, have been the ‘fresh flesh’ of Jesus (so to speak) that so inspired those brothers? Not really for, as I have said, they had been with Him, close to Him, at the recent festival for any novelty about His physical proximity and Personal companionship to have by now run its course. Here there something other … absolutely new evidence of the Spirit ‘driving’ Jesus (remember after His baptism by John in the Jordan?) and bursting out manifestly and irresistibly -- for those sensitive to Jesus -- at this the very beginning of the divine mission for which He had been sent by His Father: the re-ordering of Israel and ultimately, through the disciples He would choose and His future Church they would establish, of the whole of mankind for their eternal salvation and His beloved Father’s great glory!!
With these first-choice and most powerfully-chosen (leave everything at once!) disciples Jesus went immediately upon an introductory mission throughout all Galilee to teach them His ways and purposes:
Teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’), and curing every disease and illness among the people.
Above all, however, He wanted these chosen disciples to come to know Him Personally: ‘Come after Me’, ‘Come follow Me’, ‘Come and see’ …. Such was Jesus’ way with those who wanted to know more about Him Personally; and in those ancient times it was a possible, and possibly attractive project: the two pairs of brothers certainly saw much that was interesting, remarkable, and inspiring as they accompanied Him around Galilee: devils were not allowed to disclose Him, human titles and dignities He rejected, and the people’s earthly expectations He made no attempt to satisfy. Obedience and self-commitment were all that Jesus required of them at first; but a humble awareness of and responsiveness to His Holy Spirit -- inclining and gradually inspiring them to sincere acknowledgement of His dignity and ever deeper love for His Person -- was that to which He aspired for them.
Their daily work on His mission was to help Him by finding food and lodging, preparing food, protecting Him from over-enthusiastic crowds, warding off troublesome individuals, answering simple questions of the people, and perhaps reporting to Him concerning the people’s mood and/or expectations, the variety of needs in their society, and inevitably, helping individuals taken ill, children lost etc., etc. All very helpful for Jesus but not what Jesus had chosen them for in the first place.
Their supreme work, however, was to be that of themselves coming believe in, and learning to love, Jesus’ Person: and for that purpose, their imbibing of His very Spirit as best they could by observing not only His guidance but His every gesture and even the tenor of His general bearing and facial emotions; and most importantly, by always trying to get better at waiting before forming any personal opinions about what He would do, should do or had done, or about possible reasons for His behaviour.
Dear People of God, that picture of the originally chosen Apostles setting out to follow Jesus on His inaugural public mission is a remarkable and truly inspiring model for all of us wanting and longing to give authentic witness to Jesus and help in His work today. For that end, there is nothing better than Catholic faith and a measure of spiritual sensitivity that can be determined only by the sincerity and depth of our humility and the infinitely wise and generous measure of God’s Gift, which is His Spirit, in our lives. Faith, that is in Jesus directly, mediated to us through His Church indeed, but not with her substituting for, or taking the place of, Jesus Himself; spiritual sensitivity, that is, awareness of and responsiveness to, the guidance and inspiration of His most holy Spirit working in His Church and in our lives.
True, we do not have Jesus walking before and alongside of us; but we do most certainly have His presence with us in Holy Mother Church, in her Scriptures, especially those of the Gospels and New Testament, in her Sacraments, above all His physical Presence in her Eucharist, and indeed, in her very own ‘self’ established by Jesus as a sign and medium of and for His own perennial triumph over Satan; moreover we do most certainly have the presence of His Most Holy Spirit ‘gifted’ to Mother Church and her liturgy, and also to be copiously found in her traditions and saints long before coming to us this day, but ‘gifted’ in order that He might all the better come to us and form us who are willing into true likenesses of Jesus for the glory of His Father and ours, and for the well-being and salvation of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
My dear People, let us now, at the end of these short considerations recall, understand more fully, and rightly delight in, some words from the most comforting and inspiring psalm we heard earlier:
The Lord is my light, my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord (and) gaze upon the beauty of the Lord all the days of my life. I believe I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord with courage; be stout-hearted, and wait for the Lord.