January 23, 2011 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
People do respond to him in different ways, you know. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful, because Jesus asked him to give up his riches (Mt 19:22). Urged on by the religious leaders, the Jerusalem mob demanded, “Let him be crucified!” (Mt 27:22-23).
On the other hand, as we read in Matthew 4, some responded affirmatively, even enthusiastically. Jesus invited two sets of brothers, Simon (whom we know as Peter) and Andrew and then James and John to follow him, and they did so.
Several aspects of this call and their responses should be noted. First, Jesus had just begun his ministry of preaching. The message, as Matthew records it, was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That was the same message preached by St. John the Baptist, but on Jesus’ lips it had richer content, for the kingdom was being inaugurated by Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection. As Matthew comments, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light” (Mt 4:16; cf. Is 9:1), and Christ himself is the light.
The second point to note is that Simon and Andrew followed Jesus “at once.” The sons of Zebedee, James and John, went with Jesus “immediately.” They did not delay until some more convenient time or insist on taking some time to think it over.
The third observation is that the four brothers, who lived in Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, were all fishermen. Jesus invited them to become “fishers of men” instead. True, he asked them to change the focus of their lives from a commercial trade to the kingdom of heaven, but he couched the invitation in terms that they could relate to.
This Gospel passage tells of events of long ago, but it still has meaning for us today, for Jesus still invites us to follow him. Sometimes that invitation comes through Holy Scripture, in passages such as this one. The call might come through a priest or a deacon, a religious, or a member of the laity. Perhaps it’s a growing awareness that the sacraments bring God’s grace and with that grace a desire for a closer relationship with him. Whatever the means he uses, people today still receive invitations to come follow him, and those who perceive that Christ is indeed the “great light” choose to accept.
But all too often we put off our acceptance to a later date. Unlike those four first apostles, we don’t follow immediately. We claim we’ll follow when our family members are on their own, or when the business is flourishing, or when we’ve retired. But those times never seem to arrive, so we put off accepting Jesus’ call indefinitely. It is possible to put the kingdom of heaven at the center of our lives without forsaking responsibilities to others.
Somehow many who hear Christ’s call assume it always involves unpleasant, or at least unfamiliar, tasks. But God is the one who gives us our talents and interests. Why wouldn’t he allow us to use them when we go to work in his kingdom? As Jesus’ call to the disciples involved a point of contact with their previous lives, so also does his invitation to us.
So let us listen to Jesus’ call to become his disciples. And when we hear that call, let us at once without delay follow him in the path he has set forth for us. We can find a rich and satisfying life as stewards using our talents and experiences for serving God’s kingdom.