First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
Refrain: The Lord is my light and my salvation.
1) The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid? (Refrain:)
2) One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple. (Refrain:)
3) I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (Refrain:)
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul, ” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
Our gospel passage today begins with the news that John had been imprisoned by Herod. In Matthew's chronology of events, Jesus has already been baptized, has endured the forty days in the desert and has resisted Satan's temptations. As a result of the news about John, Jesus, in essence, begins his public ministry. The first thing he does is pick up where John had left off, by preaching a message of repentance. "The word for preaching in Greek is kerussein, which is the word for a proclamation from a king which is delivered by the kerux, the king's messenger. This word tells us of certain characteristics of the preaching of Jesus.
(1) The herald had in his voice a note of certainty. There was no doubt about his message; he did not come with "perhapses" and "maybe's" and "probably's"; he came with a definite message.
(2) The herald had in his voice the note of authority. He was speaking for the king; he was laying down and announcing the king's law, the king's command, and the king's decision.
(3) The herald's message came from a source beyond himself; it came from the king. Preaching speaks from a source beyond the preacher. It is not the expression of one person's personal opinions; it is the voice of God transmitted through that person to the people. So it was that Jesus spoke with the voice of God." (1)
The second thing which Jesus did when be began his public ministry was to call his first disciples. What struck me from this passage, as Matthew recounts it, is that Peter and Andrew immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus. James and John likewise immediately abandoned boat and father to follow him. This is incredible!
- The story is told about a church's custodian who found a bloody shirt and pair of pants lying on the altar one morning. Along with the clothes was a note with a name, address, and phone number, and the words "Please listen to God". The custodian gave them to the pastor who called the number. A young man answered the phone and admitted that he had been the one who had left the clothes. He told the pastor that he had struggled for years with an addiction to drugs and that it had driven him away from his family and into all sorts of trouble. Then, the night before he had left his clothes, this young man had been in a terrible fight and had almost killed a man. Suddenly, his eyes were opened to the wickedness of his lifestyle. He visited the hospital to make sure his victim would survive, then he had come to the church to pray. And God answered his prayers by cleansing his heart and renewing him completely. That night, the young man had left his bloody clothes behind as an offering to God, and as a symbol that he had left behind his old life. (2)
Now the disciples had not done anything of the nature which the man in our story had done, something which would compel them to leave their past lives behind them. But they definitely made a dramatic change in their lives at a moment's notice. And they did it without hemming and hawing, without asking for time to discuss the matter. They just left it all behind.
And then there's one more thing. Jesus selected very ordinary people to be his first disciples. He didn't pick men of great scholarship, or influence, or wealth or social background. He chose fishermen, common, ordinary fishermen of which there were thousands just around the Sea of Galilee plying their trade. And yet, if we look more closely at this skill of the fisherman, we will notice certain qualities about the successful ones which will serve them well as fishers of men.
- They must be patient. I could never be a successful fisherman because I could never sit still in one place for the length of time needed to catch fish. I had to be constantly active and doing. Just sitting in one place would never do.
- They must have perseverence. Fishermen are not successful every time they go out fishing. But they must persevere through the good times and the bad and not let one bad outing dent their resolve.
- They must have courage. Just in our own parish this past week, one of our parishioners lost her nineteen-year-old son in a clamming boat accident and they need our prayers to endure this time of grief. To brave the waters is still, and has always been, a risky business.
- They must have knowledge. A wise fisherman knows the habits of the fish, when they are more likely to be feeding and when they won't be. He also knows where to fish, and where it would be hopeless to do so. And he must know what bait will attract which fish. And,
- They must remain out of sight. If the fish see the fisherman, even his shadow, they will not bite. (1)
All of these traits are not only characteristic of fishermen but also of "fishers of men".The disciples needed all of these qualities as they carried Christ's message to the world. They had to be patient and persevere through all kinds of hardship. They had to have courage, since their preaching would eventually cost each of them their lives. They had to have the knowledge of when to speak their message and when to be silent. And they always had to remember that their message was not really theirs, but Christ's.
If we take the lessons of this gospel one step further, we would see that these qualities also apply to us. As Christians, Christ has called us to follow him, just as he called his first disciples. We are ordinary people, just as the disciples were. In order to live Christian lives, we need patience, especially when we encounter those who would make our lives miserable. We need perseverence, the strength to endure all of the trials, the suffering and the grief which life throws at us. We need the courage to believe when everything and everyone around us doesn't. We must have knowledge about the message we are delivering and it must be an integral part of our lives. And finally we must realize in all humility that the message is not ours, but Christ's.
This is a tall order and we could well be saying that we can't do it. We could be asking ourselves why God would want us and not others who could do such a better job. And maybe, like the young man in our story, we have something in our past which we are not proud of and which we feel may disqualify us from spreading the message. But if we are to truly imitate the example of the first disciples, we have to answer our Lord's call without question, without hesitation, without looking back, and without counting the cost. We have to be ready to drop everything that we have known and follow him. What we have to realize is that
- When God calls us, he doesn't require a job interview. He doesn't hire and fire like most bosses, because He's more like our Dad than our Boss. He doesn't look at financial gain or loss. He's not prejudiced or partial, not judging, grudging, sassy, or brassy, not deaf to our cry, not blind to our need. He doesn't calculate what we did in 1978. It's not even on the record. Sure, there are lots of reasons why God shouldn't have called us. But if we are magically in love with Him, if we hunger for Him more than our next breath, He'll use us in spite of who we are, where we've been, or what we look like. I pray that as Christians, we will step out of our limitations into the illimitable nature of who God is. Then our passion for God and our passion to communicate with Him will make mincemeat of our limitations. (3)
We are ordinary people who have been called to do extraordinary things with patience, perseverence, courage, knowledge and humility. In calling his first disciples, Jesus knew that he couldn't spread his message all by himself; he needed others to help him. I know I've said it before, but I could really find no better way to sum it all up than in the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
- He has no hands but our hands to do his work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
He has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died; and,
He has no help but our help to lead them to his side.
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. A Change of Life. From Dynamic Illustrations. Used with permission.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you call us to be your light to all nations. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to reform our lives and to seek the kingdom of God. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to reveal your good news by our very lives. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Jesus Christ, the Light of God, has dawned upon the world. In the joyful hope of everlasting life which is now open to us, we bring our needs to the Father.
Deacon: Our response is "Lord, be our light."
That all those who have answered the call of Christ through the priesthood, the diaconate and religious life will reflect the light of Christ through the way they live, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who walk in the darkness of addiction may let the light of Christ into their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That all the sick, the terminally ill and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will come to know the healing presence of Christ, we pray to the Lord.
That all those affected by natural disasters may be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Loving Father, your Son called Peter and Andrew, James and John to be his disciples. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to also answer his call to follow him without question, without hesitation and without counting the cost. And we ask this through Christ, our Lord.