Readings: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; First Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-33
These first Sunday’s of Ordinary Time we are being called to reflect on the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry. In today’s Gospel account, John the Baptizer, who had boldly announced the coming of the Messiah, has been imprisoned for his uncompromising stance against immorality.
John’s enemies silence him and ultimately behead him for being a voice they did not want to hear. The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be silenced, though, so the Lord carries on his ministry even in the face of opposition and of being misunderstood.
As soon as John had completed his testimony, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee. In those days Galilee was one of crossroads of the world and much traffic passed through that little portion of Palestine. It was a perfect setting to inaugurate the Kingdom of God intended for all people. Centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had foretold that the good news of salvation would be proclaimed in this land and reach to the Gentile nations as well.
Jesus begins his proclamation of the good news and fulfills prophetic utterances of old, for the life of the world. As the Old Testament prophets spoke of a redeemer who would set all peoples free, Jesus brings to reality those words once and for all.
Like John the Baptizer, Jesus too speaks of the need for repentance, a change of heart, “metanoia” in Greek, so that the news he brings will find receptive hearts. No one is forced to accept the message of Jesus, of course, but all are lovingly invited to.
What is the good news that Jesus preaches and longs to have all people accept? It is nothing less than peace, the restoration of a right relationship to God. It is the message of hope, that is, resurrection from the dead and participation in God’s life forever. It is the message of liberty from sin and freedom to live as God’s own beloved sons and daughters. Jesus’ word has the power transform lives, make them new and on fire for the love of God. Are we open and ready to hear the good news being preached?
Besides the need to repent, Jesus announces the need to believe. Believing, though, is only possible by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit who moves the heart and converts it to God. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes to see the only reality that really matters, that is, the path of life found in belonging wholly to Jesus Christ.
God desires that our lives be transformed by the power of his word. Are we ready to lose all to have the pearl of great price, costing nothing less than everything?
In the Gospel passage for Mass today, we find Jesus choosing his first apostles, fishermen of Galilee, not Ph.D.’s, CEO’s or CPA’s. Jesus chose ordinary people for an extraordinary task of bringing others into the community of faith. Most Jews at that time presumed the Messiah would appear first in Jerusalem among the elite of the chosen people. How different is God’s plan in sending his only son among the poor and humble of the land.
In the call of the first apostles we see the start of the new community of faith that would grow and spread to billions of the earth’s inhabitants today. We are in the time of awaiting the return of the Lord, whom we also have the possibility of meeting every day, and in a special and definitive way at the moment of death and judgment.
Like the prophet Jonah, like the Lord’s first disciples, we too are being called, day by day. We may have failed in our response in years past, last week or even yesterday. Our hearts may have been hardened and we missed the opportunity to know, love and serve our God. But in God’s eyes that doesn’t really matter, for NOW is the acceptable time, the day of salvation, the moment to hear God’s voice speaking to us, especially in his word and sacraments, but also in the silence of our heart, in one another and in the grandeur of creation around us.
God calls and invites us to share in the work of building up the kingdom of God. Greater things we are called to do than we can do by ourselves. Cooperating in God’s work we can accomplish far more than we ever dreamed or imagined. Saint Therese of Lisieux went so far as to say, “God wills to do nothing without us.”
In our response to God’s word, sharing in the work of redemption, we are changed and made “a new creation in Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). God chooses you and me, presumably ordinary people, to be ambassadors of the kingdom, to draw as many others as we can into God’s fold. Like a hen gathering her chicks, like a fisher catching fish, we are called to do likewise.
Are we ready and willing to “catch people” like a fisherman catches fish? Do we allow the light of Christ to shine through us in the way we act and speak? Do we allow God’s Holy Spirit to slowly but surely shape our daily choices more and more for God and less and less for what is not of God?
Saint Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 2, verse 15) speaks about us as helping to defuse the wonderful fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere, by our words and deeds. We are even considered to be the aroma of Christ, like a fine perfume or ointment, among those who will hear us and those who will not.
The Lord has called us personally, just as he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. May we be faithful to the Gospel and loyal to Christ. May he fill us with the joy of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and assist us to be worthy witnesses of the kingdom to all we meet, to the ends of the earth.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB