3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A – 26th January 2020 — Gospel: Matthew 4,12-23
Abandon profession, possessions and parents for the Light
As Jesus begins his public ministry, he bases his work in Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ coming to Capernaum is the dawning of the eschatological day in the Jewish land darkened by paganism. The prophetic citation from Is 9,1-2 evokes Israel’s hopes for restoration. The region of Galilee, seemingly a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, was looked down upon by the religious leaders of Jerusalem. But into this place, waiting “in darkness” and in the “shadow of death”, Jesus brings the “light” of the kingdom. In him, God has come near his people and God’s reign is immediately experienced. Into this region that is at the edge of the holy land, Jesus makes his choice for the excluded and the distant as the first of his recipients.
To share in his mission Jesus calls the first four disciples from this region, who are simple fishermen, not the religious elite whom one might expect for a spiritual mission. His invitation is simple: “follow me”. Normally in Jewish circles, the rabbinic students seek a master and then choose to learn from him. But Jesus takes the initiative and summons those he has chosen. The fishermen abandon their nets but they will still be fishing, casting a different kind of net by their own teaching and preaching. However, the emphasis is on the irresistible authority of the Lord who calls and the radical obedience of those called. The creative Word of God simply meets them in their everyday world, lays hold of them, and changes their lives forever. Their unmerited and unexpected grace of Jesus’ call carries its own cost: total, permanent abandonment of livelihood and family. It may not be necessary for all to leave profession, possessions and parents behind, but all must leave their world behind and enter the new world into which Jesus invites them; to leave the world of darkness and embrace the world of light in order to become the children of light. The abandonment of one’s own father should not be misunderstood. For among the Jews, the father symbolized of the link with the ancestors and of attachment to the tradition. And it is this dependence on the past that must be broken when it constitutes an impediment to welcome the novelty of the Gospel.
These disciples form a bridge between the ministry of Jesus and the believers who form the church to which Matthew addresses his gospel. Those who walk in darkness are the wicked, those who do injustice to the weak and needy (Ps 81,5); by contrast the righteous, those who fear the Lord, who deal in justice, who are secure in the Lord, and who give to the poor, are lights in the darkness (Ps 111,4). Darkness is the rejection of God’s call to a changed society, the call to repentance which John brings, for which he is arrested (4,12). Darkness is death, as the parallelism of Mt 4,16 indicates. To sit in darkness or death is to live in the midst of actions and structures contrary to God’s will (Is 9,9). Yet darkness is not the final word, even though it seems to be. Light, an image of God’s life and saving (Ps 27,1), dawns and rescues people from darkness, whether political oppression or personal misery such as hunger or affliction (Is 58,10). Jesus manifests God’s salvation by transforming personal misery, by announcing God’s kingdom, by forming an alternative community, and by anticipating the future establishment of God’s reign in full.