Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
IS 8:23-9:3; PS 27:1, 4, 13-14; 1 COR 1:10-13, 17; MT 4:12-23
Can you hear me now?
A very clever cellular phone ad found a niche in the popular consciousness. Asked in varying situations, the question 'Can you hear me now?' suggested that, with this particular communication system, reception was good anywhere in the world. That is, of course, if you were open to receive the call. This all sounds like a vocation ad - not merely a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, but a vocation to a life of Christian ministry. In other words, God calls to all of us: 'Can you hear me now?' And, because God's communication system cannot be deterred by obstacles in buildings or by anything in the atmosphere, we will hear this call anywhere in the world, if we are open to it.
Taken together, today's readings demonstrate how the early Christians understood that Jesus fulfilled the expectations of ancient Israel. In the first reading, Isaiah proclaims that the people in Galilee, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, who were in the throes of political crisis and intrigue, are delivered by God from darkness and hardship. The gospel refers to this passage when describing the ministry of Jesus. This was the gospel writer's way of showing that Jesus did in his day what God accomplished in earlier times, thus characterizing Jesus as one wielding divine power. The gospel then goes on to describe the call of the first disciples. It claims that those who followed Jesus would soon perform the same wondrous works that he performed.
The gospel reading recounts Jesus' call to two sets of brothers - Peter and Andrew, James and John. They were all fishermen. With simple, direct, forceful words, he invites them: "Come after me." Their response is immediate and total. They leave their trade and follow him. More than that, James and John leave their father. In a patriarchal society, the father-son relationship is one of the most intimate bonds. It suggests family responsibilities and the family business, as well as the family inheritance. To leave their father was a serious act of severing kinship ties. These men are called from their previous lives of family and fishing to new lives of community and teaching and healing.
The response of these men to their call to discipleship may appear to be quite radical. Actually, very few of us are asked to leave all behind and launch out into totally new lives and new ministerial responsibilities. Most of us are expected to answer the call and remain where we are, doing what we do, but now doing it with a view to proclaiming explicitly, by the way we live our lives, the gospel of the reign of God. Women and men will continue to be loving parents, but they will form their children to be good citizens of the reign of God, not merely of a civic society. Shop owners and clerks will continue to transact business with fairness, but they will be inspired by values of integrity, not merely for economic benefits. Professional people will continue to protect the common good, but they will do so out of vigilance for others, not simply as an exercise of power. The call may not demand a radical departure from ordinary life, but it does require a radical way of being faithful in the ordinariness of that life.
In the second reading, Paul warns us of the danger of clinging to religious heroes rather than to Christ. It seems that the Christians in the Corinthian community were claiming religious superiority because of the particular version of the gospel they followed. Some boasted of being followers of Cephas (Peter); others claimed to belong to Paul or someone by the name of Apollos; still others maintained that they were members of the "Christ" party. This is evidence that they forgot that Christ called them all, though through the agency of different Christian disciples. Their call to discipleship did not make them humbly grateful for God's election of them, but inappropriately proud of their status as followers of the followers of Christ.
We are no different today, we who boast of adhering to the views of some prominent theologian or spiritual writer in opposition to the views advanced by other equally prominent persons. Some take pride in maintaining traditional ways of faith and practice, while others boast of being led by the Spirit into new ways of being faithful. Paul would challenge those of us who often take partisan sides on religious matters: "Is Christ divided?" Despite our differences, we must remember that it is Christ who calls us, and it is Christ to whom we all owe our allegiance. It is now up to each one of us to discover how we might continue to proclaim the gospel of the reign of God. If we are preoccupied with our differences, we may not be open to receive the call.
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP,
Distinguished Professor of
Old Testament Studies
These reflections first appeared in America magazine and can now be found in THE WORD FOR EVERY SEASON (Paulist).
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