Homily: Call – a Challenge and a Gift

John the Baptist “goes before” Jesus in more ways than one: he proclaims the reign of God coming near in the person of Jesus. But he also precedes Jesus on the path to rejection and death. As our Gospel begins, Jesus hears that John has been arrested. It surely must have impelled Jesus to begin to establish his mission and ministry. Jesus quickly begins to select his disciples. And his first selections show the shape of what he hopes to be creating.

The first two disciples, Simon and Andrew, were poor. They have only nets, no boat; and the sons of Zebedee are more affluent because they have a boat. In Mark’s version of this story, they even have employees; they’re a small family business, and their father undoubtedly needs their strong arms. These four disciples are representative of those who will follow Jesus in the future: Jesus summons people from the fabric of family relationships…and from the midst of the workaday world…into a new set of relationships and a new vocation.

We might wonder how to connect this sort of abandonment of family with today’s emphasis on ‘family values’. But is it possible that we use our faith or at least our religious commitment at times to put our lives in respectable, orderly comfort?

But the reign of God isn’t about making us more effective and productive in our jobs. Our work is truly effective when it serves to express the will of God. The patterns of our lives are not made secure by the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of heaven rearranges them into the new design of God’s own making. But all this disruption is not to destroy but to renew, and our lives are transformed in the process

Perhaps God is still speaking to us in the midst of our efforts to focus on living comfortable, orderly, pleasant lives, in the midst of our attempts to use the gospel, in the face of our expectations that the church undergird such a life. God calls us, each in our own setting, to repent, that is, to turn in a new direction, to open our lives to a radical renewal that may upset and re-orient our neat little, hard-won patterns of comfort and familiarity, the unquestioned assumptions, the privilege we enjoy without even being aware of it. Perhaps this radical renewal will contradict many middle-class, prosperity-driven theologies, for example, that seem to under-emphasize the call to work for justice for the poor. How willing are we to have our lives turned upside down in order to experience this kind of repentance?

Jesus provoked many of his listeners with such expectations, but on the other hand, he inspired a number of them to leave everything for exactly such a reorientation and renewal. Their lives were never again the same, and probably not too comfortable, either. (There is an important distinction, of course, between being “comfortable” and being “comforted.”)

For example, consider the backlash the current Pope, Francis, is receiving for his clear and deeply inspiring words about economic justice. But Francis is not just “making this stuff up.” He draws on the gospel itself, the good news that Jesus proclaimed so compellingly, in word, in deed and even in his own person, that people did radical things like walk away from everything familiar and safe to know more, experience more, and perhaps even do more, because of his teachings, because of who Jesus was to them, to his people, and to the world.

Perhaps what so many of us find invigorating and even life-changing is the same thing that caused Simon, Andrew, and James and John as well, to leave everything they had (whether it was a little or a lot, it was all they knew) and follow this teacher, Jesus, on a path they could not begin to imagine. A gentle spirit, filled with humility and kindness, can also challenge and provoke those who would rather focus on “other” dimensions of the life of faith. Francis may seem most popular when he’s seen in photographs that show his tenderness to the poor and those who suffer, but the static begins when he questions the things that influence our lives (perhaps even more than the gospel does, if we look honestly): materialism, militarism, unbridled capitalism, classism. What would it cost us, especially in the affluent West, to drop everything and follow Jesus?

Pope Francis is a great illustration of the words of another Latin American church leader and theologian, Dom Helder Camara, who said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah to explain why Jesus goes to the land of the two tribes Zebulun and Napthali, In fact, at these crossroads of international trade routes, Galilee knew the heel of foreign armies as they marched through, or stopped to occupy the land. There were many Jews there, mixed with the Gentiles, hungry for good news, and it’s a wonderful image – again – of what is to come as the gospel spreads to the whole world, for all of God’s children. Out of that place of Gentiles, called ‘the land of contempt’ – comes light for the world in the person of Jesus, and that light is experienced as compassion for the suffering and hungers, both physical and spiritual, of the people.

Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected of places and

the most unlikely of people. When have you felt that you were a person ‘sitting in darkness’, longing for light to break forth in your life, longing for something to happen, for someone to come along that will transform everything? Were you ever surprised by the way God sent help, or the person bringing it?

At times our parish community has sat in darkness, and then experienced the light of God’s love. And each time it has taken a radical rethinking of our mission as Jesus calls us to it. Think of what new and unexpected things has God done in the life of our parish, at different times, over and over again. As you look around your community and around the world, what newworks and wonders is God about? How edo you plan to share it, to allow Jesus to call you to it?

The message that Jesus embodies, as Pope Francis keeps reminding us, isn’t about judgment; It isn’t even about the light. Jesus is the light, giving light by his teaching and healing, by his suffering and his rising, and through the community of his disciples. This is a kind of Epiphany news, but a news that is both gut-wrenching and glad beyond all expectation.

But one has to see the importance then of the community of followers, those of us who have abandoned our nets and boats, and had our lives changed forever. We become a counter cultural force, untamed and raw, summoning us away from all those easy ruts and bring us to discover the new life of following Jesus in the simplicity of His message. And our Gospel for today continues today, breaking forth in the most unlikely places, in the midst of the most unlikely people, and as they find it unlikely in themselves, too, continuing in the gatherings and in the ministry and faithfulness of communities gathered in Jesus’ name today. We ourselves are those most unlikely of people, the mostly unexpected sources of help and hope, and good news for the world. And yet, we are the followers He has gathered.

Helen Keller the great woman, though completely blind and mute, once communicated, “I must not just live my life; I will not just spend my life. I will invest my life.” In the quest to know God, may we do ordinary things extraordinarily well. I weep for those who never sing, and die with all their music left in them.”

The world and the church are changing more rapidly than we can comprehend…some things are the same: the world and the church desperately need [our] energy, imagination, passion, impatience, intelligence, and love…one of the great biblical themes is that God calls…all of us to walk into the future without knowing exactly where we are headed, to let go of old securities and certainties and trust the God who promises to be with us wherever we go. ( Kathryn Matthews Huey)

1 Comment

  1. Dennis Zerega

    Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 5:34 am

    Galilee is a lovely resort area. And, I never realized how close everything was. There was time to reflect while walking. Saint Peter’s fish still caught there today – a boney lawsuit waiting to happen.
    It was & is occupied territory for the various sects. Wealth then was the wealth of the few over the many. It was Herod commanding that water be where water was not. High up on a cistern carried there by slaves. And, today (this some believe) palace is Mosabee sort of a made up story of national pride. Its where the Israel kids become soldiers by oath.
    So we seem to be entering a similar period of concentrated wealth. But, we bless it with the politeness of wages that are loiw enough that most remain slaves. Bless Pope Francis for laying capitalism naked.

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