• Isaiah 8:23—9:3 • 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 • Matthew 4:12-23 • 3 Ordinary A’14 •
Scripture Readings: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 01.26.2014
The story and the words are familiar to all of us. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew follows Mark almost word-for-word in this rather uneventful first encounter between Jesus and the four fishermen. First he invites Simon and Andrew. Then he invites James and John with the same message. Both sets of brothers react the same way. They left work and family to follow Jesus.
For a long time I made the naïve presumption this was their initial encounter with Jesus. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land opened my ears to hear the gospels more realistically. Nazareth is physically close to Capernaum. I know from my own experience as an adolescence and young adult that my curiosity and spirit of adventure would have lured me to that fishing village. So I suspect that in his adolescence and as a young adult Jesus spent time in Capernaum. He probably played with and had long conversations with guys like Simon, Andrew, James and John.
When he said, “come, follow me,” the four already must have known Jesus quite well. They knew how he treated people. They probably knew his dreams and hopes, and what was important and what mattered to him. They must have known their decision to follow Jesus was risky. It changed everything in their lives. Following Jesus, really following him, makes us Christians.
I suspect we can find in this text a reason, not the only reason, but a major reason why so many of our young people have left the church. I think our young people do not know enough about Jesus of Nazareth to feel attracted to him. They do not know his dreams and hopes. They do not know what is important and what matters to him. They are seeking truth and a meaningful way of life, but have not found that in Jesus of Nazareth.
You may or may not agree with that. Please think about it.
Since the year 1000, redemption theology and emphasis on the suffering and death of Jesus had refashioned the Christ Mystery. The Christian “God” had become the ultimate guarantee that good would triumph. The hierarchical church protected the so-called “deposit of faith” and nearly everyone conformed to the doctrines contained therein. Five hundred years ago it was virtually impossible not to believe in the Christian God. Atheism was inconceivable.
Since then Galileo, Darwin, Einstein and their successors gifted us with unprecedented knowledge. Our understanding of the universe has been transformed. With that knowledge came the capacity to shape, fashion and control the world. Choosing to believe or not became an option. In the Ii Vatican Council the Spirit initiated a badly needed reclamation of “the Christ Mystery.” The hierarchical church stifled that renewal. Now young people are absent from our communities.
Please ponder this story. A mother brought her child to see Mahatma Gandhi. She was worried that this child was deeply addicted to sweets and asked the wise man to persuade her to learn moderation. Gandhi asked the mother to take the child away and to return in three weeks, which she did. Gandhi then talked to the child and persuaded her to cut down on the sweets. At the end the mother asked him, “But why, Gandhiji did you not say this to the girl three weeks ago?” He replied, “Because three weeks ago I too was addicted to sweets!”
Ponder that story and our situation today. We the elders of the Catholic household of faith think we have responded to that invitation, “Come, follow me.” However, if we are honest, I think we probably recognize that unlike the four fishermen, we do not really know Jesus, his dreams and hopes or what really mattered to him. The church as institution with ritual and rules preoccupy us. Perhaps the story of Gandhi helps explain the absence of young people. Gandhi did not try to persuade the girl to cut down on sweets, “because three weeks ago I too was addicted to sweets!”