23 January 2011
1 Cor1:10 – 13,17
Matthew 4: 14 – 23
I once met a woman who was married for many years. At first her husband had a good job but then he lost his job when his company closed. As a result they had to leave their families, friends and country to go to another country for work. The woman told me that it nearly broke her heart to have to leave her family and country but since she married her husband she was committed to be with him whatever happened to them.
In the gospel today we have the call of the first four disciples. They are invited by Jesus to leave all behind, family, work and friends to follow him. It is interesting to note that it is Jesus who takes the initiative. Like the woman who never knew where being married to her husband would lead them to be, in choosing to follow Jesus neither could the disciples have ever imagined what the future held for them as they left their families and work. It is important to note that they were called in their ordinary workplace, in the familiar place they were used to. For those of us who try to follow Jesus is it not the same? Only a small percentage is called to be missionaries working in other countries. But the task of all of us is to hear the call of Jesus where we live, work, recreate, pray etc. It is nearly always in our very ordinary daily activities that Jesus calls to us. This call involves helping others, forgiving them, looking after our families, working honestly, not forgetting to take care of ourselves by recreating in healthy ways.etc.
In the opening verses of today’s text we are told that Jesus is the Light of the world foretold by the prophet Isaiah as we heard in the first reading. Jesus himself leaves his own family place, Nazareth to go and live at Capernaum, a lakeside town in Galilee so he would very probably have met and known the 4 future disciples before today’s incident.
Galilee was regarded as a rather backward place, looked down upon by the Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem. Besides it was a place where many Gentiles or non-Jews lived as well and so was a mixture of all kinds of beliefs. By starting his ministry there Jesus is already underlining the universal nature of his work. His call is not just to the Jews but to all who are open to hear the Good News he came to preach.
Jesus began his preaching with the call to repent. He says. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”. The word ‘repent’ is not just about being sorry for our sins and trying to avoid sinning in the future. The best way to understand the word ‘repent’ is to hear it as a call to see things in a new way. In other words to look at life, people, events with the eyes of Jesus. A simple example might be to see beyond appearances and not judge others harshly. We might meet someone with AIDS, an alcoholic, a drug addict and try and avoid them at all costs saying that their situation is of their own making as if this were true in each case. And even if it were who are we to judge another? At the same time we might be very kind and respectful to rich people, those we love and care for. In reading the gospels we see the way Jesus responded to those rejected by society, lepers, adulterers, tax collectors, prostitutes and so on. Where do you and I need to repent in the way we look at others and the way we treat them?
When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven we must understand what he meant. The gospel writer Matthew was writing for Jewish converts. For the Jews it would have been almost blasphemous to name God as God so they used roundabout ways to do this. One such way was to use the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ as a way of describing God. So Matthew here is saying that when Jesus asked his followers to repent because the kingdom of heaven is close at hand he was really saying repent for God is close at hand. In the very person of Jesus God was present. So the kingdom of heaven is not only some place far away we go to after death but is really a call to have a personal relationship with God present here and now in our daily lives. He comes to us through ordinary events and people. To repent then is to be able to see and find God in all things.
Jesus is saying that it is only by following his way of relating to the Father in trust and confidence that we will have the true freedom he came to offer us. Living in the world as we do we may be tempted to live by worldly values that may satisfy us for a short while but in the long run won’t give lasting peace and joy which Jesus offers. Besides the more we see things as Jesus does we will be more concerned for justice issues especially in our workplace and elsewhere.
“Lord Jesus, you are the Light of the world. Open our eyes to see things and people as you do and to realise that God is everywhere and is at every moment inviting us to a deep, personal relationship with him. Amen.”
Fr Jim Kirstein SMA
Why Jesus chose fishermen:
Why did Jesus choose these fishermen who were probably uneducated? Perhaps he did so for their qualities: a good fisherman needs patience, just as a good fisher of men needs patience. It is rarely in teaching or preaching that we see quick results. We must learn to wait.
Secondly, a fisherman has to be a man of courage. He must be ready to risk and face the fury of storms and rough seas. So too a good teacher/preacher must be well aware that there is always a danger of being persecuted or even killed when people are faced with the truth they don’t wish to hear or are called to respond to. There are many stories of people – lay and clerical – who have died violently because they stood up for the truth and refused to be silenced by evil people.
Fishermen are also men of perseverance because there are times when they catch little and have to keep trying despite their disappointments. Does not a follower of Jesus or a preacher need to persevere too when life and results are discouraging?
A wise fisherman must keep himself out of sight. If fish see him or sense his presence they won’t bite. The work of a preacher or teacher is the same. He will always seek to present Jesus to the people, not himself. His aim is to get people, his listeners to focus on the person of Jesus so as to become his followers. There may be the temptation to advertise himself rather than Jesus.