Jan 25, 2014

3rd Sunday - To Preach, to Teach, to Heal

"I will make you fishers of men"

Is 8: 23 – 9:3
1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17
Mt 4: 12-23

Job descriptions are a very important requirement when hiring someone for a new position. They provide an explanation of duties and responsibilities of employment, a description of the expectations of the employer, and the type of work that is expected by the employee.  All employers, including those in the Church, have them.  The employee is given a time of initial service when they can indeed prove if they can meet the requirements of the job for which they were hired.  No employer would simply hire someone without some description of their expectations.

While Jesus isn’t acting as an employer handing out job descriptions in today’s Gospel we hear him call four men from their familiar trade of fishing on the Sea of Galilee to take on a new position - something that would be well beyond what they are familiar with and something for which they will forever be remembered. He certainly doesn’t give any particulars related to his invitation.  He calls out to them, in the midst of their fishing: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”  It’s an interesting play on words but a call that will forever change the direction of their lives.  That’s all he says to begin with – he simply invites them to come and see.

Their reaction, according to St. Matthew, is immediate.  Not rejection but acceptance of that call: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” Then Jesus doesn’t stop with them.  He calls two more, also fishermen who undoubtedly Peter and Andrew knew – James and John, also brothers.  Their response is the same: “. . . immediately they left their boat . . .”

Was fishing so bad that day they said to themselves: “Anything is better than this so let’s see what he has to offer.” While the Gospels are not written as historical biographies but rather as testimonies to faith, Matthew may more imply the inherent charisma of Jesus and the trust of the early disciples.  Jesus' influence on people found him to be deeply mysterious and life giving.  Fishing on the Sea of Galilee in ancient times was not a glorious job.  In fact, it was a hard life; a life of subsistence from one meal to the next. 

Yet, these brothers may have indeed had some success – not every fisherman had his own boat, nets, and the rest.  Still, to what may have been a somewhat hopeful future for these men, Jesus’ call clearly had an influence on them. Far more than fish, Jesus’ invitation is a call to mission.  To go from fishing for fish to fishing for men implied a new direction for one’s life. So there is the call, the response, and a new direction. To follow Jesus is a leap of faith. A call to conversion - a "metanoia" of new direction.

St. Paul in the second reading from Corinthians firmly reminds his early Christians to beware of personality cults which have drawn them away from their original call to follow Christ: “. . . each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas’ or ‘I belong to Christ’ . . .” Paul fears a divisive rather than a unified Christianity and knows that baptism has placed all in the same bond of unity with Christ Jesus himself as the only one whose mission we carry out.

The early disciples, later to become his Apostles, realized their special and privileged mission to carry on the work of preaching, teaching and healing in Jesus’ name that we hear of in the Gospel today: “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.” As our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us time and time again that we are a missionary Church.  And so it is our invitation where written on every baptism certificate is our job description – preach, teach, heal.

So the call is both specific, given to every one of us through baptism and universal as we see our lives part of the universal mission of the Church to bear witness to the Gospel.  

Standing on street corners, on television or on radio all have their place in the spread of the Gospel.  Our modern day technological abilities, as Pope Francis has said, are “a gift from God.” But not everyone, obviously, is called to such public fame. Still, the work of mission goes on.

In the everyday witness of our lives, conformed to the gospel, we preach his message of good news: at home, in the workplace, with one’s children and spouse, in our parish life, and especially in compassion to those in need.  In the courage to stand up in love and invite others to “come and see” the Lord as Andrew did with Peter, we can teach. And in the many requests for prayer from others or volunteer time to help the elderly or sick we can heal. All as part of the mission which Jesus’ himself called us all into.

Our gathering at the Eucharist, then, is a gathering of missionary disciples around the Lord’s table as he welcomes us to share in his life and mission.    

Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Roman Missal - Collect of Sunday)