Gospel Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of the Ordinary Time – January 22nd By Fr Brian Maher OMI
I have often wondered what it would have been like to live in Galilee at the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Imagine actually listening to John and watching the lines of people going into the river for baptism. If I had been there, would I have had the courage to join them? Now there’s the rub!
Would John have been a bit too eccentric for me, too unconventional? I’m not sure if the long hair, ragged clothes, and strange diet would attract me. And as for living in the desert? I have a feeling I like my own bed and my wi-fi too much to even consider it.
Now joining Jesus would be another matter. If I knew John, I almost certainly would have seen Jesus with him, helping, supporting, organising, learning. What might I have made of their break-up and all the stories and rumours surrounding it? Did John point to Jesus and hand over his message to him or was that a story made up by Jesus’ followers? Certainly Jesus was easier to like. He was more ‘normal’, less aggressive and he was not opposed to a good meal and a glass of wine. Would I have tagged along to hear him out of curiosity or maybe out of a desperate desire for someone – anyone – to free us from the hated Romans?
So many questions, and thoughts, and uncertainties. So many longings and yearnings which can never be satisfied.
And yet… and yet… like Peter, Andrew, James and John of today’s Gospel, I am a follower of Jesus. Many years ago I hitched my wagon to the message of the Gospel. The ideals of love, forgiveness, healing and compassion attracted me. More than that, a man who actually had the courage and faith to live those ideals… and die for them, has to be worth following. As for the rest – resurrection, eucharist, Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, incarnation – they somehow follow, and make sense, and are almost the necessary, natural, conclusion to his amazing life and teaching.
Of course, I remind myself, it is so much easier today, in the Western World at least, to be a follower of Jesus. There is no persecution, or even open aggression. Apathy? Yes. A certain amount of ridicule? Probably, but they are manageable. If I am honest with myself, saying I am a follower of Jesus today, does not really answer my questions and ponderings. If I had been there to see and hear for myself, what would I have done?
Today’s Gospel recounts an episode I would so much love to have witnessed. The message Jesus shares is almost identical to that of John – “Repent for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.” There is even a hint that Jesus began his preaching after John was arrested and imprisoned; almost as if Jesus saw himself slotting into John’s shoes (sorry, sandals!!) and continuing his ministry. If that is true, then certainly differences quickly emerged. Their lifestyles are totally different, as is their style of preaching. John liked crowds and the spectacle of public baptism and repentance. Jesus avoided crowds as much as he could and chose rather to visit small towns and villages.
However, by far the greatest difference between them was one of emphasis. John preached a message of warning. His call was for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus preached the “Kingdom of God”. While John was preaching a warning, Jesus was preaching a promise. Initially both messages might have appeared the same, but very quickly the differences emerged, and their paths separated. John’s followers continued his ministry of baptism and repentance; Jesus preached the ‘Kingdom of God’ – a Kingdom promised by God for so long; a final coming of God, bringing with him an eternal Kingdom of love, forgiveness, peace and joy. They weren’t contradictory messages, just the same message with different emphases.
If I could be transported back to Galilee, and watch Jesus call his first disciples – Peter and Andrew, James and his brother John – I would so much love to ask Jesus what he meant by the “Kingdom of God” as he was starting out on his mission.
There was something in what he said, and something in the way he said it which was hugely attractive and urgent. Attractive enough for mature, balanced, married men to commit themselves to a life of uncertainty, and urgent enough for them to make that commitment ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’, as the Gospel tells us.
In my own mind, I don’t see them up and leaving home and family that very day. Somehow, James and John saying to their father, “Here, Dad, you finish mending the nets. We have more important things to do…”, strikes me as irresponsible, cruel and selfish, maybe even sinful!
Since we know that Peter and Andrew were followers of John and already knew Jesus, it makes so much more sense to me that their decision to join Jesus came about through conversation and discussion. Likewise, James and John. For me it is so much nicer and compassionate to imagine them discussing their intention with their father and their families, and then, having set things in order, to go with Jesus.
Imagining it that way does not, in any way, lessen the attraction or urgency of Jesus’ message. In fact, for me, it makes both attraction and urgency more realistic. I can imagine myself, in their situation, discussing what they might do with both Jesus and their families, and then making the commitment to “follow me”. I could never imagine myself abandoning my family or my livelihood without any care for who I was leaving behind. Nor could I ever imagine Jesus demanding that of me.
Isn’t it also wonderful that Jesus began his mission by gathering a group of friends around himself? He needed the support and companionship of others, and he was not afraid to ask for it. We can, too easily, make our own journey with God into a private, personal journey. I hear people say all the time, “I believe in God and, in my own way, I pray. I just don’t need to go to Church or talk about my faith.” Today’s Gospel shows us that this is impossible. The ‘Kingdom of God’ that Jesus preached, was to be shared with others – always. It was not private and secret. It was, from the start, a ‘community’ of friends supporting one another, sharing together food and companionship, guiding one another ever closer to God.
The God revealed to us by Jesus, is not aloof and austere, distant and unsmiling. The God shown to us by Jesus is “abba, Father” (‘Dad’); the God shown to us by Jesus “does not call us servants, but friends”; the God shown to us by Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest.”
It is no wonder at all that Jesus’ first act was to gather around himself a group of friends.
When we open ourselves to the Gospel and accept that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, still lives with us and through us, then every story about Jesus, every word he said, every encounter he had, invite us to be there with him, listening, speaking, questioning, pondering.
I will never walk by the shore of Galilee and hear Jesus call his disciples, but I can enter into the scene with him, and I can hear the living Lord call me, too, to join him as a friend on his journey.
How lucky we are!!
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘He went and settled in Capernaum: in this way the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled’
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