3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
When you hear or read the Gospel for this Sunday, try putting yourself in the story. Imagine that you are like Peter or John. You are going about your business, as you do every day: at home, at work, at school, or wherever you find yourself. Then, from out of the blue, a Stranger approaches, someone you have never met before. That person says, simply, “The time is at hand. Follow me.” That’s it. No résumé, no explanation, no time to ponder it.
Follow me. Now.
Perhaps you feel in your heart of hearts that you should do what this person says. But then your rational mind kicks in – or so it seems. “You don’t know this person. Maybe you’re being sold a bill of goods. How can you leave everything – family, job, home – right now, and follow this person?” Besides, you might tell yourself that those Galilean fishermen of two millennia ago were naïve – not at all like we sophisticated Americans who can see through things so much better. You might well talk yourself out of following the Stranger.
Let’s test this ‘sophistication’ by changing the story just a bit. Instead of a Stranger, suppose that it’s a celebrity who comes along. A billionaire, a pro athlete, a recording artist, a movie star, a politician, or an author. Someone you find attractive or sexy in some way. Now let that person come to you out of the blue and say, “Follow me. Now.” Remember, you have never met this person, though you know this person’s name. You really don’t know this person. What you know is an image, carefully constructed and marketed to appeal to our desires, fantasies and addictions. The potential for being deceived is high. Yet, wouldn’t you feel more tempted to follow such a person than the Stranger in our first example? You, the sophisticated American – about to be ensnared anyway?
And what about those allegedly naïve Galilean fishermen, who could (supposedly) be easily deceived? Really? A little history will blow that notion out of the water. Jesus was not the first of that generation to proclaim that the moment had come. There was messianic fervor in the air, largely because this was the age when the prophet Daniel’s mysterious “seventy weeks of years” had arrived. God had promised to do something at that point. We know of several people who led movements or rebellions against the Romans while Jesus and these disciples were still children or teenagers. The Romans put them down with cruel efficiency. One revolt
was ended by crucifying hundreds of people along the road between Jerusalem and Galilee, and leaving their bodies to rot on the crosses – lest the sign be too subtle otherwise. Naïve? No way. Everyone at the time knew the extreme dangers of following the wrong messiah. Still, the hope was alive. God would do something, and soon.
What, then, did motivate Peter, Andrew, James and John to drop everything and follow Jesus – in spite of the risks if they chose wrongly? How could they leave family and work and home, and put their lives on the line? First of all, we may assume that their lives had been formed by Jewish tradition and ritual and the continual hearing of the Scriptures. These fishermen, like many others, had come to know God’s manner of speaking and acting. They became tuned in to God’s frequency, so to speak. When Jesus came along, we can imagine their hearts leaping up within them, saying, “Yes! He’s the one!”, even if they could not rationally know this or prove it or explain it yet. Somehow they could sense that God was speaking to them in and through Jesus, and so they had to respond in trust and follow.
A similar thing happens to us as well. Our lives as Catholic Christians are formed by our regular encounters with God’s Word at Mass, in the Sacraments, in private reading, in prayer, and in many other ways. We get to know the Lord and His manner of speaking and acting. We become tuned in to His frequency. Think of a time when someone may have said something to you about yourself that you may have liked – or not liked – at the moment, but that you knew was true. Your heart may have recognized in that person’s words the voice of God speaking to you. That person may not have been aware of any of that. But you knew. Something similar may have happened with these first disciples, something so deep and powerful that they were able to put their lives and their futures on the line for Jesus.
What is this deep and powerful thing that led the disciples to let go of every security and follow Jesus? They may not have understood it completely at the time, but they came to see. For this, we look at Paul in the second reading. It’s a very short, yet very powerful, reading. He tells us that the time is running out. Those who are married should live as though they were not. Those who buy or sell should live as though they owned nothing. “For the world in its present form is passing away.”
Notice that Paul does not tell the Corinthians to literally leave their spouses or give up all their property. Not every Christian is called to do this. No, Paul challenges them to see all these realities – as important as they are – as secondary. Secondary to what?
Remember – Paul witnessed this promised time of fulfillment, this coming of the Kingdom of God, in a very direct way. The Risen Lord appeared to him. That one experience literally blew away Paul’s former way of assessing life and everything in it. Why?
Think of all the things that you fear. Every one of them is a kind of death – from our literal physical death to the dying of our reputation, or money, or physical or mental abilities, our dreams, or having those we love experience any of these ways of dying. Many in our world use the fear of death – in whatever form – to motivate, cower, or entice us in some way. But when Paul encountered the Risen Lord, he knew that death could not have the last word. No more. A new world had arrived. God was now fulfilling his promises to us in ways that were unexpected yet beyond anything people dared hope for. If death did not have the last word, what was there to fear? If all who trust in the Lord live in the Lord forever, what can anyone or anything else really do to us in the end?
We are already living in this time of fulfillment. The Risen Lord is with us as he was with Paul and so many others before us. The Spirit of the Lord guides and strengthens all who say yes to Him. Repenting and following Christ is not only about turning away from sin and doing good deeds – though it includes all this, of course. It’s about believing that this time of fulfillment has begun. The world as we know it – a world ruled by the fear of death and futility – is passing away. The world where death has no ultimate power has arrived. it is that faith in this new world that God brings which gives us the power to turn from temptation and sin, and witness to the Resurrection of Christ in our lives.
Every day, the Lord calls each one of us to take the next step in following Him. He calls on us to trust a little more fully His words and promises. He calls us to see all other things in our lives – as good as they may be – as secondary. They are good to the extent that they serve Him. We may still tend to hold back. We still fear being taken in or deceived, or looking that way in front of others. But God cannot deceive or be deceived. The Lord calls you, me, every one of us, right here and now, to stop, listen, and follow once again. We have nothing to fear. Even death has been overcome. Turn to the Lord, and believe, once again, in the Good News!