Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gospel: Fishers of Men

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: A cycle

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shown.

These words from the prophet Isaiah are repeated in today’s gospel reading. It is clear that the St. Matthew believed that Jesus was the light that Isaiah referred to, and since that time Christians have agreed with him.

It is not just that Jesus, the light of the world, will dispel darkness and gloom but that he will be a healer. In the words of Isaiah,

For the yoke that burdened them,
The pole on their shoulder,
And the rod of their taskmaster
You have smashed.

Practically the first thing that Jesus does when he sets out on his public mission is to call disciples to follow Him and assist Him in His work of healing. In today’s gospel we see Him walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when He sees Peter and his brother, Andrew. They were fishermen and He says to them, “come after Me and I will make you fishers of men.” We are told, “At once they left their nets and followed Him.” Immediately after, he saw two other fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and called them as well. Again we are told, “Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed Him.”

What strikes me most about this passage is how quickly they were converted. They did not require instruction or lessons in theology. They did not have to go through an extended course of study. They seemed to have asked no questions or made any inquiries about His background. From what follows in the gospels we know that these first disciples did not have a clear idea of who He was or what He was going to do. Like most of us when we embark on life’s great adventures, they did not know what they were getting into or where they would wind up.

There must have been something about Him that made them immediately give up their jobs and families to follow Him. There was something that led them to put their full faith in Him.

This passage reminded me of a book I recently read about Brother Andre, a recently canonized Canadian saint, who had as little theological knowledge and book learning as his namesake, Andrew, in today’s gospel. Andre was a poor orphan who received practically no education beyond what his mother taught him before she died when he was only 12. Thereafter, he had to work to help support himself and help out with his brothers and sisters. Eventually, a local priest, impressed with his holiness, asked the Holy Cross Fathers in Montreal to take him in. Since he did not appear to be very intelligent, he could not even be made a brother, but they gave him a job as doorkeeper or porter at their school.

To make a long story short, within a few years people were flocking to the school because Andre had gained the reputation as a healer. Some would come on crutches but go away walking on their own, leaving their crutches behind. Many of these crutches can still be seen today in St. Joseph’s Oratory, the magnificent church eventually built to accommodate all the pilgrims who wanted to visit him. When Brother Andre died in 1937 over a million people filed by his casket.

I mention Brother Andre because during his whole life he denied that he was a miracle worker possessed with great healing powers. Like Jesus, Andre often used material objects like oil and medals in healing people but he also denied that these had any magical powers. He had a special devotion to St. Joseph and asked all who came to him to pray to St. Joseph but even that he regarded as only a means for them to enhance their faith in Jesus, the light of the world. Andre always gave the credit for all of his accomplishments to faith in Jesus Christ.

In today’s second reading St. Paul does the same thing. He says to the Corinthians that it has come to his attention that some of them place their faith in him; that others believe in Apollos, or in Peter. He is shocked at this development.

Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Recently, in my own parish a beloved pastor had to retire after 18 years for health reasons. Tears ran down faces when the announcement was made. His farewell Mass and reception were packed. He had been a compassionate pastor as well as a wonderful homilist. He had a knack for involving people in every aspect of parish life. He was also a skilled and thrifty administrator who had taken the parish out of debt, and left it with a huge surplus.

Nevertheless, I never heard him claim any credit for himself. If you asked him, I’m sure he would have said that anything he had accomplished was due to Christ working through him. The last thing he would want is for people to leave their parish community because he had had to leave. In today’s gospel we are told that Christ will still be here, “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.”

Reading 1. Isaiah 8: 23-9:3
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17
Gospel. Matthew 4: 12-23 (fishers of men).

No comments:

Post a Comment