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The Third Sunday In Ordinary Time: January 13, 2023

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 4:12–25. In this passage we read of how Jesus begins His public ministry and calls His first disciples. We also hear a summary of how our Lord carried out His ministry in Galilee. This reading offers several points for our reflection.

The Gospel indicates that the start of Jesus’ ministry was prompted by the arrest of John the Baptist. In response to John’s imprisonment, we are told that Jesus withdrew to Galilee, and in doing so He went to the very area where Herod Antipas reigned (Herod Antipas is the one who had imprisoned John). It seems odd that Jesus would go to the very place where Herod wielded power, yet that is part of the Gospel message. Jesus does not flee from evil; rather, He confronts it in a non-violent and non-retaliatory way. When evil and unjust acts were occurring, Jesus responded by manifesting the Kingdom of God as demonstrated in His healing ministry at the end of this passage. Our Lord also invites others to assist Him in carrying out that ministry. The wrongful imprisonment of John the Baptist triggered the rightful ministry of Jesus. This is an important message for us as disciples because we live in the midst of a complex and sometimes dangerous world. Sometimes we can think that the challenge of the Gospel is intended for those who don’t face such daily threatening confrontations with evil. This passage causes us to reconsider that presumption and to realize that Jesus faced a complex and threatening world at least as much as we do. Our Lord responded not by shying away from those situations but by responding directly, effectively, and nonviolently so that the message Gospel would never be silenced no matter how great the intimidation. This passage also reminds us that we should be encouraged in our faith and discipleship both by the good examples of holy people and by the antagonistic actions of ill-willed people.
When have you seen an act of injustice actually become a motivation for people to do good?
When has a wrongful action motivated you to stand up for what is right?
Herod’s tools were fear and intimidation. How are these tools used today in personal relationships, families, or professional settings to silence or control people?
Jesus would not be intimidated by Herod and remain silent but rather He actively proclaimed the Kingdom of God. What would it look like for you to do the same when you face a difficult situation?
What can a faith community do to help people become more aware of situations of injustice so as to motivate a Gospel-based response?
The passage continues with the call of the first disciples. When Jesus sees Peter and his brother Andrew, He calls them to follow Him based on the promise that He will make them “Fishers of Men”. This phrase is not merely a play on words in that they were “fishermen” who became “fishers of men”. Rather, it can be an indication that Jesus wants to use their natural talents and professional skills to accomplish an important work for the Gospel. We all have professional skills and talents, and Jesus calls us to be disciples who place ourselves at the service of the Gospel as well. When Jesus called the first disciples with these words, He was giving an important instruction on the nature of discipleship for all who would follow Him. In particular, following Jesus doesn’t just mean that we focus on ourselves and are concerned only about our own personal prayer and way of life. Rather, being a disciple also requires that we become missionaries who are always bringing others to Christ. That is why the disciples are told that they will need to use their natural talents and human connections to draw others to Christ (Fishers of Men). For many centuries in the Church some people have mistakenly believed that missionary efforts were only for those who were engaged in missionary apostolates. As a result of that false assumption many people did not understand their baptismal calling to share in the missionary work of Jesus. This passage is an important wake-up call reminding us that when we follow Christ we have an immediate and essential responsibility to bring others to the Lord as well.
When have you been called on to use your professional skills and talents to aid in the Church’s mission?
What was your reaction to that experience?
What skills or talents do you possess that you have not yet been asked to place at the service of the Gospel?
How might you find a use for those skills or talents?
What can your faith community do to better provide opportunities for its members to offer their skills and talents for the good of others?
What is the mission field that you work in each day where you can use your skills and human connections to bring others to Christ?
How does it challenge you to know that an essential part of being a disciple is the responsibility to be a missionary?
When we hear the story of how readily Peter, Andrew, James, and John follow Jesus, we sometimes are tempted to think that it was easy for them to walk away from their daily occupations. This thought is sometimes mistakenly used to alleviate our own consciences for the many times when we have not followed the Lord’s call in our own lives. Sometimes we can think that is was easier for the first disciples because they did not have as much at stake as we do, but that is not correct. Peter was married and operated a significant fishing industry with his brother Andrew. They were independent businessmen with assets, clients, business partners, liabilities, and all the other complexities that are part of our lives as well. To have a business like this in the time of Jesus was to be relatively affluent. Certainly Peter and Andrew had numerous responsibilities. Their lives were not happy-go-lucky adventures from one day to the next. They were far more like us than we may want to acknowledge. The fact that they could leave all that behind and follow Jesus demonstrates both the power and appeal of our Lord’s message as well as the readiness of their response. When we exempt ourselves from responding to the call of discipleship because we mistakenly believe that we are too busy, we dismiss a graced opportunity to be close to the Lord. It is always our loss. Peter and Andrew are presented to us as examples of readiness and freedom who recognize the day of the Lord’s visitation to their lives and respond to opportunities presented to them.
What busyness of your life makes it difficult for you to follow the Lord with readiness and freedom?
What are some of the false presumptions you use to exempt yourself from the personal call to follow the Lord?
Whose good example of faith challenges you in such a way that you say, “If that person can do it, then so can I”?
It is interesting that in the call of Peter and Andrew we are told that they left their nets to follow Jesus. In the subsequent call of James and John, we are told that they left their boat and their father to follow Jesus. Thus, we see the first disciples having to leave behind both the resources of their lives and their closest relationships for the sake of following Jesus. It takes a lot of faith and courage to do that! However, such faith and courage was necessary for many early Christians if they wanted to remain faithful during the times of persecution and Matthew’s Gospel is written during such a time. To be a Christian in the Early Church sometimes meant that a person might have their possessions and property confiscated. It also sometimes meant that they might be rejected or ostracized by their families and close friends. When a person came to such a moment of sacrifice, they had to decide what was most important to them — Jesus or their possessions and relationships. To remain faithful required that a disciple be prepared for sacrifice. Sometimes our faith today calls us to sacrifice as well for the sake of following Jesus.
When have you experienced tension in your closest relationships because of your discipleship?
Do you know of anyone who has experienced loss of a relationship because of a decision to be Christian or be Catholic?
How can your faith community provide support for people who experience such stress in their relationships?
How have you been called to sacrifice your possessions for the sake of following Jesus, or to let go of your material attachments in order to be a better disciple?
Do you know of anyone who exhibits, expresses, or reveals detachment so as to be free to follow Jesus?
What happens to a person’s life when they value possessions or relationships more than their attachment to Jesus?
The first disciples demonstrated a readiness to respond to the Lord’s invitation with faith and trust. They didn’t know where Jesus would take them or how long they would be gone. They didn’t know what Jesus would ask of them or what the Lord would expect of them. They simply accepted the invitation and followed Him. Most of us like to know details before we make a commitment. We even praise hesitance and caution before making a decision. While such thoroughness may serve us well in our professional lives, it can become a detriment to our spiritual lives. God doesn’t answer our questions or agree to our terms. The Lord asks us to trust Him and to follow without limit or condition wherever He leads us.
If Jesus called you to follow Him as He called the first disciples, what would be some of the questions you would want answered before you said “yes”?
What is the most trusting thing you’ve ever done based purely on faith?
Who is someone who stands out in your mind as a person of heroic response to discipleship?
What might Jesus ask you to do today as an act of trust and confidence in Him?
How will you respond?
One final note concerns the summary of Jesus’ Galilean ministry contained in Matthew 4:23–24. We are presented with a list of ailments that afflicted the people of His time. Many of these ailments we are familiar with; we see Jesus healing these in various scenes (demonic possession, illness, paralysis, and so forth). One of these ailments is a bit unusual and warrants some further reflection. It is the ailment commonly listed as “epilepsy”. The actual word in Greek means “lunatic” and in Matthew 17:15 we see a man present his son to Jesus with these words, “Lord, have mercy on my son for he is a lunatic and suffers sorely, for he often falls into fire and water.” On a surface level we may understand this as the outdated belief of ancient cultures that the moon actually caused a person to develop mental illness and to act in a self-destructive way. While it is true that gazing on the moon (Latin Luna) was believed to have detrimental effects to a person’s mental health, we should not so easily dismiss the destructive connection between what a person focuses on and the damage caused in that person’s life. How many people today have caused great damage in their marriages, professional, and personal lives because they have become fixated on the wrong things? Being a lunatic can be as much about wrong priorities and destructive obsessions as it is about mental illness. Today many people have allowed themselves to become obsessed with or addicted to gambling, alcohol, the Internet, pornography, extra-marital affairs, materialism, the pursuit of pleasure, and all sorts of things that end up damaging their lives. When someone does these things, we may wonder what went wrong. While we may not refer to persons as lunatics, we do realize how easy it is for a person to focus on destructive and damaging pursuits that first affect the mind and then bear the bad fruit of destructive actions. Part of the ministry of Jesus was to heal such ill-focused obsessions and to redirect people’s focus onto the healthy concerns of love of God and neighbor.
What are some of the destructive things people can focus on that damage marriages and family life today?
How does the Word of God become a healing remedy for the ill thoughts that fill people’s hearts and minds?
How does the ministry of Jesus challenge the Church today to become more proactive in helping people avoid the temptation of harmful gazing?
It is important for every disciple to periodically question if there are any harmful gazes taking place in their life. What do you find helpful in determining what harmful preoccupations may exist in your life and in overcoming those preoccupations?
Fixing our eyes on the right thing is both a blessing and a challenge in our spiritual growth. In the XIV century, Blessed Henry Suso wrote this prayer to Christ crucified:
O you charming Mirror of all graces in which heavenly spirits refresh their eyes lovingly, if only I had your dear countenance here as it was when you were dying that I might wash it with the tears of my heart and might contemplate your beautiful eyes […]. O gentle Lord, since a loving imitation of your meek way of life and your suffering from love is so very pleasing to you, I shall spend all my efforts from now on to imitate you joyfully rather than to lament with weeping.[1]
[1] Henry Suso, “Little Book of Eternal Wisdom” in The Exemplar, New York: Paulist Press, 1989, Chap. 3, pp. 216-217.
The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew. Caravaggio. Oil on canvas, 1603-1606. The Royal Collection, London.
Matthew 4:12-23

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.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

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.
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.

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