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3RD SUNDAY AS SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD A20

In the Apostolic Letter in the form of ‘Motu Proprio’ (from his own initiative) 'Aperuit Illis' issued on September 30, 2019 on the 1600 death anniversary of the renowned biblical scholar St. Jerome whose famous phrase, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ” still appears in bookmarks and stationaries, the Holy Father Pope Francis designated the third Sunday in Ordinary Time as the Sunday of the Word of God. The proclamation of the Word of God in the Liturgy of the Word and the homily needs to be strongly emphasized. There is a difference between scriptum (the solemn divine writing) and verbum (the proclamation of the sacred writing). He added that the bible belongs to the people of God and not for a privileged few, elites and experts. It is the people’s book. They have the right for the correct interpretation of the sacred text. People are hungry for God’s word like never before. We are all hermeneuts. We are meaning seeking creatures. We breath God’s word. If we don’t find meaning in life, we give up. 

Pope Francis also said that “a day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers.” 

Noticeably, the date coincides with the week of prayer for Christian Unity in which Pope Francis mentioned that the bible has ecumenical value (even interfaith -  my addition). That’s true, we share the Old Testament writings (Hebrew bible) with our Jewish brothers and sisters and the entire bible (OT and NT) with fellow Christians. Sometimes, we argue over the interpretation and the differences divide us but the celebration, the study and the sharing of the word of God never intends to break us apart but rather hopes to bring unity to the people of God.  

THE CALLING OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES

This Sunday, lectionary begins with the cycle of Matthew’s gospel at chapter 4, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, in Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It all began, centuries before the dawn of the digital age, with a simple invitation to follow him and a quick response to build the largest religious institution the world has ever known with approximately 1 point- something- billion- members and counting (faithful and unfaithful included). That said, we cannot underestimate nor take for granted the impact of a humble, gracious, and friendly personal invitation as it has proven to work and yielded unimaginable results. We're told that after hearing the call, they immediately, not pre-meditated, dropped everything (their support system: livelihood, family, etc) and followed him not on twitter or Facebook but on the way, entirely embracing the gospel way of life. Did they know and hear about Jesus prior to this encounter? We don’t know for sure which highlights the magnitude, the irresistability and the attractiveness of the Jesus relentless invitation. It was not easy to leave everything behind as the fishing industry was a stable and comfortable source of livelihood. 

By way of introduction to Jesus' public ministry, Matthew kicks it off by taking us back, giving us a foretaste of Isaiah's quotable verse highlighting the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus in a specified geographical location that is, Galilee, a bustling, sprawling open city by ancient standards, livelihood stemming mostly from farming and fishing industries with tremendous outside cultural influences:

"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 (Mt. 4:15-16)." 

For Matthew, it was in Galilee that Jesus called his first disciples.

"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 (Mt. 4:18-20)."

Similarly, in the case of James and John, the sons of Zebedee responded quickly.

"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 (Mt. 4:21-22)." 

When this occurred, Jesus wasn't sitting in the desk in the comfort of his office making calls nor standing at the intersection of G Ave and 10th St. nor at the parking lot of a grocery store, a perfect spot to chance upon a prospect. He was out-on-the-go while the would-be disciples were tied up at work hauling their nets. They weren't just sitting around by the bay as the case would have been watching passers-by...hoping to get noticed...gazing at the horizon...a la buena vista...They were fishermen, by profession. They did it for a living, not for recreation and leisure. For them, to leave  their livelihood, their bread and butter, their means of survival in a tough environment and most importantly, abandon their father in the middle of work to a Galilean itinerant preacher who promised nothing but an assurance, was not an easy thing to do.

Because it happened quickly which sounded too good to be true, I figured Jesus must have met them before. It appeared he was familiar with them. Strange as it may have seemed, there wasn't much talking involved, no further details as to the extent, no signed contract if need be, no term limits, no if's and buts and no hint of hesitation whatsoever. That was nothing of that sort. It's hard for us to relate in a story that doesn't much count the human aspect, the various stages we go through in making a lifetime decision. Even if it's a simple item you want to buy, it takes time to figure out whether or not you'll swipe your credit card in exchange for a stuff. Even in facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube and other networking sites, getting a friend request from someone unfamiliar makes you shiver...who is this? Let me check the profile picture, photos, background, leads and posts in the timeline if it's worth hitting the confirm button. As experience tells us, following someone goes through different stages: issue of trust, questioning, curiosity, seeking, etc. Similarly with Jesus, before we arrive at a pivotal turn, at a critical point, you get to know the person first before deciding to open your heart and risk your life to something beyond our capacity to comprehend. A personal choice usually takes place at the end all things considered.

What if the author told us the story exactly as it happened? What if it really took them just a quarter of a second, even less in my estimation, to make the decision? When you finally make a choice, you're in for the long run and the details aren't that important. When you drop the nets, you leave everything else behind driven by the mission God wants you to do. What if the early Christians wanted to let us know that when you sign up for Jesus, don't demand for anything because no amount of money can compensate you for the job and for what you're about to get into.

Paul was right on target in the second reading as he addressed the Corinthian community experiencing inner strife "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul didn't see it firsthand. He was only informed about this. He urged them there should be no fights and quarrels, jealousies and rivalries, stop the bickering, pettiness and divisions, none of these things have place in the community. He reminded those who claimed allegiance to various religious leaders like Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ to seriously reflect on their sense of loyalty as many say, I belong to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I belong to Pope Francis, I belong to…supply the missing term…

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you may be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you."

I have no doubt in my mind that there's more to the gospel than meets my senses. They must have seen something extraordinary in Jesus, in the unknowability of God and to the extent possible, in fishing that prompted them to drop their nets. Amen.

POINTS TO PONDER:

  1. What is the story of your call?
  2. How did you end up ministering in the parish?
  3. Have you invited/drawn people to Jesus?
Tags: 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME