Mass Readings: Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23
The beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, after His Baptism in the River Jordan, is still on our minds. Just two weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. We hear today about the early stages of the Lord’s ministry, when He was gradually being recognized as a Rabbi, a Teacher of the people, with a very clear message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
And where exactly is the Kingdom or Reign of God? Within us and among us! Christ is in our midst, as the Light of the Nations and the Glory of God’s people, the Church. Jesus has come to establish the new Israel, God’s people, who need to be ready and willing to take up the Gospel. Keep in mind that the Gospel, the Good News, was first transmitted by the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ. The people had the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, but now Jesus was proclaiming something even more, with utterances and actions that were the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Eventually the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth would be committed to writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is what we now call the New Testament.
The Opening Prayer at Mass this Sunday, said right before we are seated to listen to the Scripture lessons, speaks of our “abounding in good works,” which we can accomplish in and with Jesus Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Lord has taught us what good deeds consist of and we are lovingly invited to take them up.
We who are alive today, and those who come after us, have the great advantage of the Sacred Scripture, the Bible, containing God’s very Word. These sacred texts should form the basis of how we live, and the sustaining force of how we live, what we say and do, where we go, how we worship God and how we are to treat one another.
The first reading at Mass today is a beautiful text from the Prophet Isaiah, written some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, with words that hearken us back to the Christmas season. The Isaiah text speaks of “seeing a great light,” where darkness and gloom disappears, bringing abundant joy and great rejoicing, as happens at harvest time, for example. Such a mighty light, coming from God and leading to God, will necessarily mean, for us who follow Christ, the possibility of harmony and peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Rather, the intention of God’s intervention is to bring communion among all people of good will, believers and non-believers alike.
While many today do not accept the message of the Lord, or once having accepted it reject it, we are called to believe and to extend God’s love to all and that “seventy times seven times” forgiveness that Christ taught, to others, which ultimately leads to interior freedom and to the doors of God’s House.
An important part of the Gospel passage this Sunday regards the choosing of the twelve Apostles, first among them Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. What Jesus does to these two and other ten is turn their lives upside down. After the call of Jesus, these men are no longer “themselves” we might say, but part of a bigger picture, not becoming part of a sect as was the Pharisees, but becoming guides and pillars of the new People of God, the Catholic Church. In their becoming foundation stones of the Church, the Apostles are capable of attaining and leading others to life everlasting. This great gift does not come lightly or without challenges, and in fact Christ Himself is the most ready to lay down His life for others, as His followers are also called to do.
The precious gifts of the Sacraments of our Church are the principle means of our going to God, coupled with a life of prayer and good works. Like the Apostles we are called to “go forth,” the very meaning of the word “apostle,” and proclaim the Gospel by our words and deeds. In the process we promote the idea of “one heart and one mind,” which Jesus ardently prayed for during His earthly sojourn.
What the Gospel proclaims–nothing less than life in Christ–is not something to be admired from afar, but meant to be entered into fully by all of us, as we would gladly jump into a heated swimming pool on a chilly day, which doesn’t scald us or freeze us, but which refreshes us and warms us.
We need, though, to be properly disposed to “swim in the Lord’s love,” as it is sometimes called. This means living a life of love and generosity, simplicity and devotion and never giving up in times of trial. I remember at a monastery many years ago a monk walking briskly and moving his arms as one would in a swimming pool. When asked what he was doing, he simply said, “I’m swimming in the Lord.” While we can move others in the depths of their hearts by what we say and do, so we can likewise be touched by how others treat us.
The establishment and fulfillment of God’s Kingdom—and both are still going on!—means we allow God to transform our way of thinking and acting. God’s action, what we normally call grace, must take hold of our inner most being and make of us “new creatures” in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God, we don’t undertake this project alone, but in the midst of community, the Church, as well as in our families, monastery, or wherever we are interacting with others. In that reality, under God’s care, our lives are gradually but surely changed into the One Heart, Sacred and Pierced, of Jesus Crucified and Risen.
May we never try to go to God “on our own,” but always in the company of others. We “help carry one another’s burdens,” as Saint Paul expressed the idea (see Galatians 6:2). We are to give our lives, forget ourselves, yet in the process find ourselves, as we await with hope the final form of the Kingdom of God in the world to come. That may seem so far off, so abstract, intangible and all the rest, but it will be here before we know it! The Lord is near, never abandons us, and always leads us like a Good Shepherd.