In these early weeks of “ordinary” time we are increasingly introduced to Jesus and to the beginnings of his public ministry. In Matthew’s Gospel today we hear described how Jesus began his public ministry in the wake of the arrest of John the Baptist. And Matthew tells us three things regarding this ministry of Jesus: it’s Context, its Content, and it’s call. Let’s look at each in turn.
1. CONTEXT of Jesus Ministry – The text says, When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.
The relocation of Jesus northward from Judea up to Galilee tells us some important truths. First, it tells us of the hostility of the southern regions to the message of John the Baptist and Jesus. The area in and around Judea which included, principally, Jerusalem was controlled by a sort of religious ruling class (the Sadducees especially, and to a lesser extent the Pharisees). Since they were in strong but often controverted leadership in these areas, they were far less open to ideas which in any way threatened their leadership or questioned the rituals related to the Temple. As we know, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but he did come to fulfill it and this was threatening to those tied to the current status quo, most of whom did not distinguish fulfillment from abolition, and saw only threat. Further, the Herodian dynasty was also threatening especially in the south and had arrested John the Baptist.
Jesus thus, moves north to more fertile territory to begin his public ministry. The Jewish people in Galilee were less hostile. In fact the people of Jerusalem often looked down upon them for their more simple, agrarian ways and “rural accent.” But here was more fertile ground for Jesus to begin.
Now there is an important lesson for us in this. While we must carefully preserve Christian orthodoxy and only accept a development of doctrine that is organic and faithful to the received Apostolic Tradition, it is also true that we can sometimes stifle the Holy Spirit who will speak to us through unexpected people and in unexpected ways. The Pharisee leaders simply rejected the notion that any prophet could come from Galilee. Whne Nicodemus encouraged them to give jesus a hearing they scoffed: Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee (Jn 7:52). It is possible for us to insist upon things where freedom is permitted the Christian. There are various degrees of expression permitted in the liturgy and there are often different schools of theological thought which the Church sanctions. Balance is required of us. There may be preferences that we have for Thomistic formulations, Carmelite spirituality, charismatic worship or traditional Latin Mass worship. Such things are legitimate matters for on-going discussion, but we can too easily be threatened by what the Church currently deems to be legitimate diversity. Discovering a the range and limits of diversity is an on-going matter for the Church but we ought not permit the field of our own soul to be hostile to Jesus and his ministry, which may come to us more diverse ways that we, of our self, prefer.
How tragic it was for Judea that Jesus thought he had to move on to more fertile territory, and what a blessing it was for Galilee that he moved there. The fact is that unfounded stubbornness can be hinder the Word of God in us. Jesus moved on to a more accepting context wherein his ministry could bear the greatest fruit. St. Gregory the Great has this to say about the context for preaching and necessary fertility of the field:
For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness. as the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? (PS 50:16) On the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly as the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. (Ez 3:26) He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away for they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock. – (St. Gregory the Great Hom. 17,3, 14)
For Galilee there was this boon: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined (Is 9:2) But for others, Jesus had only this to say, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Matt 21:43)
2. The CONTENT of his MINISTRY – The text says, From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We have discussed before the careful balance of Jesus’ preaching. He is willing to challenge and so say, Repent! But he also declares the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Accepting the ministry of Jesus requires that we avoid both presumption and despair.
To those who make light of sin and their condition as a sinner, Jesus says repent. It is wrong to presume that we do not need an on-going healing power from the Lord to overcome our sin. And perhaps our greatest sin is our blindness to our sin. Most human beings do not seem to comprehend how serious their condition is. The word translated here as “Repent!” is μετανοεῖτε (metanoeite) which means more literally to come to a new mind, or a new way of thinking. In our sin soaked world where sin is so pervasive as to almost be unnoticed, Jesus says, “Come to a new mind. Understand your condition and need for mercy and grace. Come to understand that without the rescue that only God can give, you are lost.” And hence we are told to reject presumption.
But we are also told to reject despair, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. In other words, the grace and mercy of God are now available to rescue us from this present evil age and from our carnal condition. Through Christ we are granted admittance to the Kingdom and the Spirit of God can overcome our carnal, sin nature and bring us true holiness.
The proper mean between presumption and despair is the theological virtue of Hope. By hope we confidently expect God’s help in attaining eternal life. By proper metanoia (repentance) we know that we need that help, and by hope confidently reach for it.
In our own proclamation of the kingdom we also need the proper balance exhibited by Jesus. Consider how, with children, that if all they hear is criticism they become discouraged (despair). But if all they hear is praise and are never corrected: they become spoiled and prideful and presume everything should be just as they want it. For the Church too, a balance is necessary. Too many expect the Church only to affirm and “be positive.” But this leads to a more selfish and incorrigible world and to a presumption that nothing matters (as we can plainly see). Thus the Church must announce the call to repentance. But the Church must also offer hope and mercy to sinners. She must offer grace though the Sacraments and by her preaching which, with God’s power, makes the Kingdom of God to be “at hand.”
3. The CALL of his Ministry The text says, As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus, in building his kingdom, summons men to follow him. He will train them to be the leaders of his Church as Apostles. The Kingdom of God is not only about calling disciples but also about developing leaders to provide order and authority in the Church. Even the most “democratic” of organizations requires authority and leadership. Without these there is anarchy and a battle of wills. Hence the Lord calls not only disciples, in the early stages of his public ministry, he also grooms leaders. Consider three things about the Lord’s call here.
A. His ARTICULATENESS: He says to these apostles, Come Follow me! Notice that his announcement is unambiguous. Good leaders like the Lord are clear to make known what they ask, indeed, what is demanded. He is clear to set the course and point the way. And HE is that way.
B. His APPEAL – Jesus must have had a personal appeal and exuded an authority that was strong and reassuring. His appeal to them was personal: come follow ME. He did not merely say come and “learn my doctrine,” or “accept my vision.” He said, follow ME. So too, as we hand on the faith to our children and to others, we cannot simply say, here is a Catechism follow it. We must also take the next step and say follow the Lord with me. We cannot simply say what a book says, correct though that book is. Ultimately we must be able to say, I am a personal witness to the fact that God is real and that the truth he has given to the Church is authentic and is changing my life. Our appeal must include the personal testimony that what we proclaim is real and is changing our life: COme and go with me to my Father’s house.
C. His APPROACH – Note that the Lord builds on what they know: fishing. He starts with the familiar to draw them to the less familiar. In a way he is saying that the gifts they are currently using are just the gifts they can use as leaders in God’s Kingdom. Fishermen are:
- Patient – Fishermen often wait long hours for the fish to bite. So too as Apostles and Bishops there must be a patience, a capacity to wait long periods before there is a catch for the Lord.
- Perceptive – Fishermen learn to know the fish and their behavior and what attracts them. So too Apostles and clergy must learn of their people and what will attract them to Christ.
- Persevering – Fishermen must often go out for many days with little catch. Only through perseverance is there real gain in fishing. So too with the Work of the clergy who may go long stretches with little to show. The gospel may go “out of season” even for decades in certain cultures (like our own). The good leader will persevere, will stay at the task.
3. The COMPREHENSIVENESS of his Ministry – The text says, 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.
Therefore note that all of Galilee was his mission field and he covered it comprehensively. He also cured of every disease and illness. And thus the Church is catholic and must also address every part of the world and provide a comprehensive vision for life. We may not have the power to simplistically cure every ailment and problem, but we can provide the vision of the Paschal mystery that sheds light and brings spiritual healing to every affliction. If we are suffering and dying, so to did Jesus but only to rise and be glorified on account of his fidelity and obedience. So too for the Church and for the Christian, the grace and the comprehensive answer to every affliction is that we are always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Christ so that the rising of Christ may also be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10). We seek to bring healing to everyone we can, and where physical remedies are not possible, the truth of the Gospel reassures that every Friday, faithfully endured, brings forth, by God’s grace an Easter Sunday.
Here then are three crucial insights to the beginning of Jesus public ministry. They remain for the Church and for all of us who would follow in Jesus’ footsteps important insights for us to acknowledge and imitate.
Now journey with me back to 1971, a year of funny hair to be sure, but here is the old Classic “Come and God With Me to My Father’s House”
15 Replies to “Come and Go With Me to My Father’s House: A Meditation on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of the Year”
Looks you and I are the only ones here, so far, Monsignore.
Well, the higher the quality, the lesser the crowd.
I really enjoyed today’s readings and I thoroughly enjoy your reflections. I love the phrase “I will make you fishers of men.” It is again a reminder that we all have gifts, however small, to build up the Kingdom of God, if we turn away from sin.
ps: Have you read “The Big Fisherman” by Lloyd C. Douglas — it’s historical fiction about Peter’s life. Beautiful book, well imagined.
There are so many golden nuggets in this reflection. I would do it much injustice to try to comment. Instead, I’ll just go to confession. (lol). On a lighter note, thanks for posting the video. It reminded me of my mother, aunties and grandma when they use to wear those wigs and high hair back in the day. I notice now the young girls are wearing wigs again. Too Funny. Thanks. It made me laugh and remember some good times.
The text begins v. 17 of chapter 4 of St. Mattew: “From that time on”. These words will occur again in v. 21 of chapter 16 of the same Gospel. (I seem to remember this point being made in a homily–not the one I heard today.) I’m not a scripture scholar, and I don’t know if what I’m writing which follows is a true interpretation: It seems from the context that Jesus is in Caesarea Philippi when St. Matthew uses these words again, correct? Reading the rest of v. 21 of chapter 16 St. Matthew points out that Jesus’ mission is turning toward Jerusalem? So has he been up in Galilee all this time and now he will (soon?) be heading back south (see chap. 19 v. 1) which is the location of Jerusalem, correct?
Thank you for this blog, Msgr. Pope. This is my first response to a post.
Yes, I am not sure of your exact point but the point I was making is that at the time of this text in Matt 4 Jesus would have been in the Judean Desert near Jericho, i.e. down in the south closer to Jerusalem not in Cesarea Phillipi. Surely, in his three year ministry he does make several trips to Jerusalem and builds to his final trip where he goes to die, for no prophet can die anywhere but in Jerusalem. The point here isn’t that Jesus will not reutrn there, but that when he does he experiences primarily hostility and ultimately his enemies kill him. To put it in allegorical terms, I’d hope my soul is more fertile Galilean territory rather than a hostile Judean land.
I think it was more of an observation on the phrase “From that time on” that St. Matthew may use only (twice?) in his Gospel. Thank you for the reply.
Isaiah 9 tells of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali as lands who were in anguish. “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali but in the latter he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:1-2
God came to his people first where they suffered most. The Fertile Crescent was the “Galilee of the nations” and it was this area that was always the first to come under attack whenever foreign armies marched to invade Israel. Isaiah uses the words light and darkness to mean liberation and oppression. God turned invasion, anguish, desolation, suffering, and oppression into salvation by making the people of Galilee the FIRST ones to see the light of Jesus. Praise God.
Jesus was went to Galilee to FULFILL the PROPHECY of Isaiah, not as a result of the “Sadducees especially, and to a lesser extent the Pharisees” controlling religion and the people for their selfish motives and/or unwillingness to accept new ideas. That had everything to do with power and politics and nothing to do with religion as it still is to some extent today.
“Can anything good come out of Galiliee?”, was the saying then. Today, we ask, “Can anything good come out of the poor, uneducated, homosexual, gay, physically handicapped, mentally handicapped or the homeless?” The Lord opposses the proud and gives grace to the humble – James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5
Thank you for reminding me about this wonderful truth.
Fair enough. However, one need not assume it was only to fulfill scripture that Jesus went north. Most things usually have several layers of motivation. Consider the fact that Jesus that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This surely fulfilled scripture but was also due to a decsion to conduct a census. Hence, it seems unecessary for you to use absolute words such as “not” “nothing” “everything” and the ALL CAPS in your presention. There is no need to advance an all or nothing point of view in this case. The points are not mutally exclusive.
Msgr., You claim that I am advancing “an all or nothing point of view”? Then you disagree that the Pharisees and Saducees were not politically motivated and power hungry officials catering to the Roman Government at the time of Jesus? Were they not concerned that Jesus was stirring up the population against them, i.e. ‘rocking the boat’? Are you saying that they were not already sure of Jesus’s guilt and ‘absolute’ death before his mock trial?
The points are indeed mutually exclusive – the enactment of religious law in order to control the population for political and personal power is an old story that never changes. Execution for political and religious reasons still happens in the world today.
I agree that scripture has many layers of understanding- literal, metaphorical, allegorical, spiritual, poetic, and mythical to name a few. If we are to see Jesus’s life as the begotten Son of God, the Truth, the Way and the LIfe, then are we not to believe that he came to fulfill the law as he said he did? John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, etc….”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” Born in Bethlehem for Judah to see – a census ordained by God for His purposes. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1
Nothing happens without God’s will for it to do so.
Why you are being so argumentative?
Please see my reply of Jan 26th. “Please excuse me Msgr. Pope, I guess I am just very passionate about biblical studies…”
Thanks Msgr.This will help my study on the bible.Especially the Gospel..
Yesterday morning I enjoyed listening to André Thomas’s arrangement of “Walk in the Light.” Here’s a performance I found on YouTube:
In the recesses of my memory I’ve sung something else that used the text from yesterday’s OT reading. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but came across this article:
The work he mentions by David Williams “In the Year That King Uzziah Died” truly is a powerful piece.
Please excuse me Msgr. Pope, I guess I am just very passionate about biblical studies and understanding what our Lord means for me to know. I did not realize that my words were coming across as ‘argumentative’ while following the literal interpretation that I gathered you were using. Mia culpa.
Metaphorically, this passage has much to say to me about mankind’s acceptance and rejection of Jesus personally as well as a people entirely. Spiritually it speaks to me about how I should let go of my egocentric material perishable self and find more of my true imperishable spiritual self to become a daughter of God.
When Jesus starts his journey being born in Bethlehem (South) and becomes the “Only Begotten Son of God” – Christ in Galilee (North), I feel he has broken the bonds that still hold most of us to the material ego world. Going from the lowest egocentric consciousness to the highest awareness of non-ego spiritual consciousness is the same as the bible’s description of God descending from heaven to earth; the Spirit being with Him or upon Him; being in the Spirit; or being one with the Lord.
When Jesus says, “I and the Father are one”, I believe Jesus means that literally. That his consciousness and God’s consciousness are the same; that Jesus reached a level of enlightenment and awareness of God within himself that gave him the confidence and absolute knowledge that he could do “the works of my Father” because his Father lived within him. As Paul says, “I do not live for me, but for Christ who lives in me.”
I do not believe that we are that far apart in our thinking Msgr., just a little a drift in approaches. :>)
Again, please pardon me if I have offended in any way, it was not and is not, my intention.
The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. Thomas Jefferson
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