Third Sunday of the Year
by Fr. Jack McArdle
Today's gospel is about Jesus beginning his mission, calling his first disciples, and beginning to travel from place to place, to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was close at hand.
As we approached New Year's I read an ad for a ball priced at £1,000! This can disturb Christians, who feel the others are high-jacking the real reason for the celebration. I don't think that such negative reactions serve any purpose. As a Christian, I can make my own preparations, and let the others do whatever they choose. Part of being a Christian is to be like Jesus, to be a 'sign of contradiction', which frees me up from conforming to the dictates and norms of the world. The Kingdom of God is not of this world. If, like Jesus in today's gospel, I have a very clear vision and goal, and I know exactly what I am about, my energy and enthusiasm for the task ahead will be dramatically increased.
Today's gospel marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. John had been arrested, so that was the end of the ministry of John. The gospel tells us that "instead of going to Nazareth(in other words, instead of going home), Jesus went to Capernaum. The show was on the road, as it were. As it happened, the prophet had foretold that this would happen. I don't think that the sayings of the prophets are what influenced Jesus. He was led by the Spirit, and that led him into the fulfilling of all the prophecies. Aren't they powerful words used by the prophet to describe what happens when Jesus appears among them? "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who lived in the land where death cast its shadow, a light has shone." Jesus would later refer to himself as the light of the world; and, in commissioning his apostles, he would tell them that they, now, were to be a light to the world.
The message of Jesus is a very simple one. "Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the Kingdom of heaven is near." I said earlier that the clearer my goal or vision, the higher will be the level of my energy in bringing that about. Sin is a false goal, an untrue vision, an empty promise. It is immediate, selfish, and is self-will run riot. It is the result of behaviour that is out of control, through a compulsion, addiction, or selfish whim. It can never satisfy, because, outside the Kingdom of God I am an exile, pining for home. Even in the depth of my sin the Kingdom of God is very near. I just have to reach out, and Jesus is there.
When I was growing up the word 'vocation' was high-jacked by priests and Religious! It is now being given back to the laity, and more and more laity are actually experiencing themselves as being called. There is nothing dramatic about this. It just means that I don't just stumble into the Christian way by default, without any clear path or pattern to follow. 'I have called you by name; you are mine'. 'You didn't choose me; no, I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that would remain'. If the gospel is now, and I am every person in the gospel, then, through the gospel of today, I am being called.
I mentioned earlier that, when I have a clear goal and vision to follow, that my energy level in pursuing that is so much higher. When I was baptised, someone else said my 'yes' for me. I cannot remember having any great enthusiasm about my Confirmation, beyond the fact of the new suit, and the money from family and friends. There must come a time, however, when I am prepared to take personal responsibility for my own calling, and say my own personal 'yes'. Because God is totally a God of now("I am who am"), the only 'yes' in my whole life he's interested in is my 'yes' of now.
"Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the Kingdom of God is near." In rugby football, when someone scores a try, that team is then given a conversion kick. In the ancient game of wrestling, when one succeeded in turning the other person right around into the opposite position, that was marked as a point or a conversion. Conversion has to do with crossing-over; with changing of direction, with a shifting of position. It means letting go of one situation or position, and moving to another one. It is basically about change. To live is to change, and to become holy or whole is to have changed often(Newman). The writer of the Psalms is continually calling on the Lord to change his heart. "Create a new heart in me, O Lord, and put a right spirit within me…….". Having that attitude towards God is a necessary part of conversion. A constant declaration of my willingness to be changed is a central part of prayer.
Christianity is about a person, Jesus Christ. He is the pearl of great price that he speaks of, which, when someone finds it, is willing to sell everything he has to buy that pearl. The apostles in today's gospel just walked away from everything. This may seem highly insensitive to their father, and to their responsibilities to their families. There must have been some powerful magnetic force, while in the presence of Jesus. There must also have been some great emptiness within the hearts of the apostles, because, certainly, not everyone who was in the presence of Jesus felt any call to follow him. Some were there out of curiosity, some to trip him up, and others were plotting his arrest and execution. The response of the apostles, therefore, must have come from a combination of their own inner hungers, and the charismatic power that came from being in the presence of Jesus. I imagine their own human condition was actually the first ingredient, because they had lived with that for many years before they ever heard of Jesus. I would suggest that, to have a deep personal encounter with Jesus, I could begin with my own human struggles, weaknesses, brokenness, and inability to manage life. No doubt that would help enormously, when it comes to listen to Jesus speak about forgiveness, compassion, and the special place of sinners in his plan of salvation.
I continue to stress one very important point, i.e., the gospel is now, and I am every person in it. I have a choice right now to be in two places. In my mind, I can be away back there when and where today's gospel took place; or I can be where I am right now, let Jesus enter that space, and have this incident encircle me. Supposing you personally heard the call to turn from your sins, and turn to God, can you actually identify something within yourself that would have to change? Some behaviour, action, attitude, etc., that would have to be faced up to, and removed? I am not suggesting that you yourself could actually do the removing, because, by yourself, you would not be able. What I am suggesting is that I am willing to bring it to the Lord, and declare to him my desire to surrender, and to have him change me.
While the apostles left their boats to follow Jesus, what is it that I would have to walk away from, before I would be free to follow? This could be anything from a wrong relationship, to an addiction, to a mental attitude. One seldom hears about the Seven Deadly Sins anymore! However, if I have a quick run down through those, I may find identification with one or more of them. Remember them? Pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, envy, anger, and sloth. Translating those into modern language might give you a list like the following: Considering myself as superior to others; being jealous of what they have, and begrudging them their success; using others to meet your own needs, and confusing this with love; once again, we have that green-eyed monster of envy or begrudgery, and the inability to rejoice in another's success; anger is just another word for wounded pride, because someone dared to rain on my parade; and, lastly, we have the sins of omission, where I'm always going to get around to doing the good, but not just yet. The road to hell is paved with good intentions…
If I am not at all involved in evangelising others, this is a direct result of the fact that I myself have never been evangelised. I am not speaking of standing on a butter-box in the town square. Evangelising is something the Spirit can do through me, if I make myself available. "Lord, may your Spirit within me touch the hearts of those I meet today, either through the words I say, the prayers I pray, the life I live, or the very person that I am."
There is a story told about Leonardo de Vinci's famous painting of the Last Supper. He searched far and wide for what he considered to be an ideal model for each person in the painting. He began with a fine-looking young man, full of life, and very anchored, and chose him as a perfect model for Jesus. He followed with other models for each of the apostles. Naturally, the work took several years. He left Judas till last, because he was having a problem finding someone who could represent him. Finally, he came across a bum, who was sleeping rough, who had all the appearances of being untrustworthy, and, like Judas, would probably sell his soul if it brought him some money. Leonardo approached the man and persuaded him to come to his studio. While the work was in progress, both men came to the same realisation. This man had been in this studio before, representing Jesus. He had gone astray, lost his way, and was now on Skid Row. It was a very great sock to de Vinci, and a moment of conversion for the man.
When Jesus called on people to turn from their sins, he also asked some of them to follow him. They were to become his pupils, people who would absorb his Spirit, and continue his work, when he went back home to the Father.
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And That's The Gospel Truth copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.