Monday, January 27, 2014

Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men

Jesus has called and chosen… us! Today’s Gospel from Matthew (Chapter 4) reminds me of an experience I had once while visiting the Bay Area.  I was roaming around the side streets of North Berkeley, close to where our  Franciscan School of Theology use to be, and I noticed a rather large van parked in someone’s driveway. On the side of the van was a sign indicating that it belonged to Time After Time, Inc.,  a firm specializing in cryonics.  You know, cryonics?  The hope, belief and practice on the part of some that it is possible to take the body of a person who has recently died and preserving it at extremely low temperatures.  The thought is that one might, at some point in the future,  be able to resuscitate the corpse,  given the possibilities  of scientific advancement and so on.  It is a complicated and, by the way, very expensive enterprise.

So, anyway, as he looked at the van and noticed its quirky logo, my walking companion quipped, “Oh, I get it.  ‘Many are cold, but few are frozen.’”. . . .  Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly what the message is for today, but it may help you remember what the real meaning of the Gospel is. The real theme of the Gospel, of course, is quite closer to the statement :  Many are called and few are chosen.
And that’s exactly what is happening in today’s Gospel.  Jesus is calling and choosing.  And by the way, He quite deliberate and methodical in both  His decisions and in His actions.

First, let’s put this all into context.  Jesus, after His baptism by his cousin John in the Jordan, has moved into the desert for a period of period of fasting and prayer lasting some 40 days.  Now, John has been arrested and Jesus is on His own for the first time.  Completely on His own.  And He makes some important decisions.  Some important choices which will have a profound effect upon His mission.
First of all, instead of returning to His hometown of Nazareth in southern Galilee, Jesus chooses to center his itinerant ministry in the strategically located fishing village of Capernaum in northern Galilee, some 45 miles due north.
Capernaum is located alongside a major trade route called the Via Maris, or the Way of the Sea,  originating in Damascus and terminating in Egypt.  It was the equivalent of  a major superhighway, if you will, in Roman times.
Secondly, Jesus chooses to situate His ministry in Galilee.  Note, Galilee. Not Jerusalem, the capital and center of Jewish worship in the Temple.  Galilee is “the sticks”, the boondocks.  A remote region which is ethnically and culturally mixed in which only about one-half of the population are Jews.  It is, by definition, then, ritually impure and contaminated. 

After calling Capernaum of Galilee his new home, Jesus proceeds to call and choose His disciples, His apostles.  Once again, His choices are surprising and even confusing.  First of all, Jesus does the picking—in a complete reversal of Jewish cultural norms  which dictated that students pick their rabbis/ teachers and not the other way around.  No, Jesus does the picking, the choosing.   And He does it in a very deliberate way.  He chooses ordinary people.  Not  Temple priests, not scholars and academicians.  Not even reformers—members of the Pharisees.  He doesn’t even choose among the contemplative Essenes,  whose community was prototypical of monastic life.

No. Jesus calls and chooses fishermen—businessmen who are rooted in their trade and anchored in their family and community life.  He calls people away from their primary responsibilities and identity to something totally new.
So, He picks and chooses. And He calls.  Each and every single one personally and by name.  And, if the Scriptures are to believed, He calls them in a very simple and direct way.  In ten words or less:  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Period.

Amazingly, and nobody to this day knows exactly how or why, they respond to the call, drop everything, and follow him.  But the story is not over.  Jesus does one more thing.  He has chosen his location (Capernaum).  He has chosen his disciples.  And now He literally takes up where John the Baptist has left off.  He has chosen His motto and byword:  “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Jesus has called.  And chosen.  Both then. And now.  Because, you see, Jesus has called and chosen… you and me.  In baptism, He, as a member of the Trinity,  has taken up residence and set up shop in our hearts and minds, in our bodies and souls.  He will not budge and He cannot be evicted.  So we’re stuck with him.
Secondly, He has chosen each one of us by name.  To be and to become His follower and friends.  Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus picked “those whom He desired…. To be with Him.”  And so it is with us.  Jesus wants us to be with him. Literally to keep Him company.

Not only that, Jesus has called us to himself so that he can send us to others.  To be with and for others as  His personal representatives.  To preach the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven in practical, down to earth terms. To show others as Jesus shows us, that we are called and chosen for life.  For  peace.  For  justice.  For serenity.  For community.  For love. and out of love.  So, if you are feeling cold and frozen, it’s time to thaw out.  Called and chosen is what we are.  And we’re stuck with it.  Called and chosen to receive, to be, and to share:  Love Himself.

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