3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

fishers-of-men

1st Reading: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3

Rather than trusting in God’s light, Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom of the Hebrew people) tried to live by their own ‘light’ – their own self-important ways.  It brought darkness and destruction to both.  The prophet is looking for an ideal king to lead his people. Kings were seen as being ‘adopted’ by God and a sign of God’s presence with his people.   King Ahaz of Judah did not live up to his calling.  He had made an agreement with Assyria against the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The prophet looked to a new king, Hezekiah, to be a ‘savior king’.  These hopes were not realized.  Hezekiah eventually became a disappointment, too. (Celebration, Jan.1999)

The great light that Isaiah is speaking of is the revelation of God’s love beyond Israel to even the Gentiles. It is the day when God’s love becomes real for those who are without a religious tendency, to those who are toughened by despair, to those who think hope is nothing but a day dream. But this light does not come by way of some paranormal experience – it can come only by way of ordinary people open to and filled with God’s extraordinary love. This love can come to our world today only if you and I bring it, with God’s help. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, January, 1999)

Thomas Aquinas said hope is a special desire that has a special object.  That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get and yet possible.  So to have hope is to have faith.  If faith is a gift of God, how are you open to receiving it?  How does it give you hope and dispel your darkness?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10 – 13, 17

This letter of Paul’s was probably written about 54-55, A.D. It is really not the ‘first letter’ since Paul writes of a previous letter in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Remember in the early church Paul’s letters were treasured and circulated, but not really organized until around 90 AD. So some were lost and others then were put out of order. The ideas and their importance are still valid. (Barclay, The Letter to the Corinthians, 4-6)

Cephas was the Jewish version of Peter’s name. His ‘group’ was probably made up of the more Jewish Christians who still held tightly to Jewish traditions and law. Apollos was an educated man from Alexandria whose learning and Greek influence made him more attractive to the Gentile Christians and those with greater education. Paul reminds them that these differences should not lead to division. That it is Christ Jesus we must look to for the light – the truth –the insights we need. A preacher’s ‘job’ is just to lead us to Jesus. It is in the cross of Christ that we find the absolute assurance of God’s love – there is the fullness of wisdom in no other place. It seemed there were not serious doctrinal differences here in Corinth, but cliques and factions. The word for united is usually used when two hostile parties reach an agreement. In Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 the same word is used to describe the mending of torn fishing nets. Keep this in mind when you read the gospel. (Celebration, January 1999 & 2005)

Do you think having no divisions among us is realistic?  It is our diversity that makes us the body of Christ.  But there lies the answer…diversity doesn’t have to mean division.  Donald Cozzens in his book Faith that Dares to Speak talks about contemplative conversation.  “Both conversion and conversation are cognates of converse – to turn around, to turn toward another.  Understood as a noun, converse includes the meaning of free and honest interchange of ideas, dreams, hopes – and yes, fear….We move too quickly to shrill argument and righteous declarations rather than turning first to silence that prompts openness of heart and nudges the soul toward the place where conversion of intellect and imagination occur…Contemplative conversation, conversation that emerges from silence and prayer, on the other hand, possesses a one and humility that disarms defensive postures of rectitude.  There is a freshness, a lightness of spirit present when this kind of conversation is entered into,” (p. 110-111).

The Gospel– Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Here we see Jesus setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was, thus, quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. And, as fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.

(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary!  He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.”  The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

Other interesting ‘fish’ facts:  A fish was an early symbol of Christianity because the letters of the Greek word for fish are I-C-H-T-H-U-S.  These are the same letters that begin the Greek words for “JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR”  (IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER)

The early Christians also hung an anchor on the doors of the houses where they would gather to celebrate Eucharist because it resembled a cross.  This secret symbol identified their ‘house churches.’

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began following Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas and returned to their families at night or after short intervals, even fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity that was so in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name is not just good news; it is great news! We have the same calling. (Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk Yr A, 363,364)

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2 responses

  1. It’s interesting to think of how a person’s credentials might or might not fit the job. (A topic much in the news during this week of confirmation hearings.)
    Barclay comments on the good match between the skills of a fisherman and those of a leader of the church. It’s something for a parish to think about: WHat “bait” is most likely to attract the local fish? (What is their hunger?) Where are they? At what time of day or night? What sort of line or net will work best? AND What will we do with the fish when we catch them? If we don’t have a styrofoam cooler, we’ll just toss them back into the muddy water.

  2. I love your application to parish life. I hope we always have a styrofoam cooler so none get tossed back in. On the other hand, maybe it’s the parish that needs to jump into the muddy water and join the fish!

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