Come and Go with Me to My Father’s House

blog-1.21In these early weeks of “ordinary” time, we are being introduced to Jesus and the beginnings of His public ministry. Matthew’s Gospel today describes how Jesus began His public ministry in the wake of the arrest of John the Baptist. Matthew tells us four things about Jesus’ ministry: its context, its content, its call, and its comprehensiveness. Let’s look at each in turn.

I. The CONTEXT 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 coveys 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). Because they were in strong but often controversial control in these areas, they were far less open to ideas that 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; He came to fulfill it. This was threatening to those tied to the status quo, most of whom did not distinguish fulfillment from abolition. Further, the Herodian dynasty was also a danger, especially in the south, and had arrested John the Baptist.

And so Jesus moved north to more fertile territory in order 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 simple, agrarian ways and their “rural accent.” But it was more fertile ground for Jesus to begin His work.

There is an important lesson in this: While we must carefully preserve Christian orthodoxy and only accept doctrinal development that is organic and faithful to the received Apostolic Tradition, we can sometimes inadvertently stifle the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us through unexpected people and in unexpected ways.

The Pharisee leaders simply rejected the notion that any prophet could come from Galilee. When 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). Sometimes we can insist upon a single position in matters in which Christians are allowed freedom. For example, there are various degrees of expression permitted in the liturgy; there are also different schools of theological thought that are allowed by the Church.

Balance is required of us. We may prefer Thomistic formulations, Carmelite spirituality, charismatic worship, or the traditional Latin Mass. Such things are legitimate matters for discussion; we ought not to feel threatened by what the Church currently deems to be legitimate diversity. Discovering the range and limits of diversity is an ongoing matter for the Church; we should not permit the field of our own soul to be hostile to Jesus and His ministry, which may come to us in more diverse ways than we would 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. Unfounded stubbornness can hinder the Word of God in us. Jesus moved on to a more accepting area where His ministry could bear the most fruit. St. Gregory the Great had 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 Homily 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).

II. The CONTENT 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 to 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 the two extremes of presumption and despair.

To those who make light of sin and their condition as sinners, Jesus says, “Repent.” It is wrong to presume that we do not need continual healing power from the Lord in order to overcome our sin. Perhaps our greatest sin is our blindness to it. Most 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 “to come to a new way of thinking.” In our sin-soaked world, a world in which sin is so pervasive as to almost go unnoticed, Jesus says, “Come to a new mind. Understand your condition and your need for mercy and grace. Come to understand that without the rescue that only God can provide, 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 available to rescue us from this present evil age and from our carnal condition. Through Christ we are granted admittance to the Kingdom. The Spirit of God can overcome our carnal, sinful nature and bring us to true holiness.

The proper balance 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; by hope we confidently reach for it.

In our own proclamation of the Kingdom we also need the proper balance exhibited by Jesus. Consider that if children hear nothing but criticism they become discouraged (they despair), but if all they hear is praise they become spoiled and prideful, presuming that everything should be just as they want it.

For the Church, too, balance is necessary. Many people expect the Church only to affirm and “be positive.” This leads to a selfish and incorrigible world and to the presumption that nothing matters (as we can plainly see today). Thus the Church must announce the call to repentance, but must also offer hope and mercy to sinners. She must offer grace though the Sacraments and her preaching, which, with God’s power, makes the Kingdom of God to be “at hand.”

III. The CALL 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.

In building His Kingdom, Jesus summons men to follow Him. He will train them to be the leaders of His Church as Apostles. The Kingdom of God is not just concerned with calling disciples, but also with 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, in the early stages of His public ministry, the Lord calls disciples and also grooms leaders. Consider three things about the Lord’s call.

A. His ARTICULATENESS – He says to these apostles, Come, Follow me. His announcement is unambiguous. Good leaders make clear what they ask, indeed, what they demand. Jesus is clear to set the course and point the way; He is that way.

B. His APPEAL Jesus must have had tremendous personal appeal and exuded a strong, reassuring authority. 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, as we hand on the faith to our children and others, we cannot simply say, “Here is the Catechism; follow it.” Each of us must also take the next step and tell them to follow the Lord with me. We cannot simply parrot what a book says, correct though that book might be. 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 something they know: fishing. He starts with the familiar in order to draw them to the less familiar. In a way, He is saying that the gifts they are currently using are just the ones they need to use as leaders in God’s Kingdom. Fishermen are

  • Patient – They often wait long hours for the fish to bite. Apostles and bishops must also be patient and have the ability to wait for long periods before there is a catch for the Lord.
  • Perceptive – They learn to know the fish, their behavior, and what attracts them. Apostles and clergy must learn about their people and what will attract them to Christ.
  • Persevering – They must go through many days in which they catch very little; only through perseverance is there real gain in fishing. So it is with the work of the clergy, who may go long stretches with little to show for it. 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.

IV. The COMPREHENSIVENESS 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.

Note that all of Galilee was His mission field and He covered it comprehensively. He also cured people of every disease and illness. And thus the Church is catholic, and must address every part of the world, providing a comprehensive vision for life. We may not have the power to solve every problem, but we can provide the vision of the Paschal mystery, which sheds light and brings spiritual healing to every affliction. If we are suffering and dying, we must remember that Jesus did as well, but only to rise and be glorified on account of his fidelity and obedience.

For the Church and for the Christian, 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 us that every Friday, faithfully endured, brings forth an Easter Sunday.

Here, then, are four crucial insights from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. They are important for us to acknowledge and to imitate.

Journey with me back to 1971 (a year of funny hair, to be sure) and listen to this old classic: “Come and Go with Me to My Father’s House.”

7 Replies to “Come and Go with Me to My Father’s House”

  1. Once again, Msgr. a very helpful piece on a quite deep and little understood passage of Luke’s Gospel. And, I noted that you have also used, as a very apt illustration, St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians 4:10.
    However, given the state of the church – nay the whole world today, may I say, perhaps pastors might rather more effectively be preaching at today’s masses on what St Paul had to say in his first letter to the people of Corinth – Chapter 1:10-13 – which just happens to be the second reading at mass today:

    “10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brethren. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul?”

    That we already inside the church recognise all is not well in this respect is bad enough, but I have to tell you, I yesterday watched a very thoughtful TV programme on the whole subject of the Fatima story – one on which you yourself, in a blog only a few days ago, maintained would be very important to us all indeed in this, the centenary year of the event. This production not only looked at the various controversies surrounding, especially, the revelation of the third secret, but at the current state of the church and its people, who seem to be in a state of utter confusion, not only about this but about practically every other facet of the faith.
    What came very forcibly to the surface during the hour-long programme was, that the rest of the world – especially unbelievers – now see the church as, not only a great big and very messy joke, but, as one man said when interviewed, “This, like all the rest of what they preach, is quite clearly a whole load of hocus-pocus, fed by priests and popes who don’t even understand their own religion and who themselves behave in a manner which flies in the face of everything their own ‘Jesus’ taught them! And, in these circumstances, how can anyone else be asked to believe these fairy stories about God and Jesus, etc., when the church’s membership exhibit such a lack of adherence to their own faith and blatantly disobey everything that their church teaches them to do in order to live decent and open Christian lives?” He concluded, “Better that some catastrophe of the sort being spoken about at Fatima ‘were’ to take place and wipe these hypocrites off the face of the earth!!”
    A comment which I believe you would agree with me needs no further embellishment. If this is the way the rest of the world sees us – what hope is there?
    Lack of clear teaching and preaching on the part of too many luke-warm and even aggressively anti-church (anti-Christ?) priests and other pastors is the reason for this and the church should be vigorously – even violently – stirring itself in no uncertain manner from the very top down, in order to make sure that Our dear Lord is not vindicated in His rather sad and weary-sounding, rhetorical question, whilst he was with us in person, in Luke 18:8 – “Will the Son of Man find any faith whatever when He returns?” Well – WILL HE . . . . . ????
    Perhaps we could all do with reading the ‘whole’ of Luke chapter 18 a few more times than once. It might help each of us to see a bit more clearly where we are ‘all’ lacking!
    God bless all – and give those of us who care the grace and strength to keep on preaching the ‘true’ Gospel, without fear or favour – as you, Msgr Charles, seem to do.

    1. Sorry Msgr – and everybody. I have only just realised that I referred to the Sunday Mass Gospel as from Luke. Of course – it wasn’t – it was from Matthew Chapter 4. At the time, I had just been comparing the Luke version in his chapter 5, so I suppose I had it in mind when I wrote. So – many apologies again.
      Mind you – I am surprised that ‘nobody’ else noticed my ‘deliberate’ mistake . . . . . . . . . But then – who ‘does’ notice where the mass readings come from . . . . ??

  2. I am from Oak Harbor Wa.I know your family here. My brother in Houston TX sent me this..Facebook. Thank you for your thoughtfull insight. God bless you Msgr.

  3. “we can sometimes inadvertently stifle the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us through unexpected people and in unexpected ways.”
    Upon occasion I hear someone reject something new that isn’t in the Holy Bible and say that it isn’t in Scripture and, therefore must be the work of satan.
    I worry for their sake because, Matthew 12:31.
    During the homily, in this neck of the backwoods, the priest made reference to the star which led the Magi (in relation to “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”)
    Then, I recalled references where some had given a, seemingly implied, divine aspect to the stars. Isaiah 47:13 for instance.
    Yet here was a star serving God as the Magi were led to the Annointed One.
    And, just think of the vast (to us) planning and execution of those plans. How far away was the Star of Bethlehem? Probably over four light years away because that’s the distance to the nearest star. Were the messages for the Magi, not only implanted but enacted and sent toward Earth, more than four years prior to the Nativity so that they could be perfectly timed for the reception of these three?
    Easily for the One who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    1. Hi Peter W. I generally like to read your comments and glean something from them, but I am sorry to say on this occasion I got lost after your sentence, “I worry for their sake because, Matthew 12:31.”
      I’m not sure how this reference to the sin against the Holy Spirit links with your further comments afterwards. I would be very grateful if you would explain further so I can get a grip on your train of thought.
      Thanks so much. God bless.

  4. Thank you Ray.
    When I cover two separate items, when I feel that both relate to the main/original post, I try for a smooth transition from one to the other. It seems as if I inadvertantly bonded the two into one incongruancy.
    I will try to learn from this.
    1.) Acceptance that guidance to Christians didn’t end at the last “Amen” after the Book of the Apocolypse so, don’t risk slandering The Holy Spirit when He seeks to guide us.
    2.) The light, of truth, as manifest in The Star of Bethlehem was more miraculous a mystery than it fist appeared to be.

Comments are closed.