Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 22, 2017)

In the first reading - the one also used at midnight on Christmas - Isaiah the prophet uses the image of darkness and sings a thanksgiving hymn for the lightsome deliverance of the Jews from Assyrian darkness.

In the gospel, we hear of Herod imprisoning John the Baptizer. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is now an empty echo in a dungeon. Authority did what authority does both in state and in church: silences what threatens. It is as valid today as it was then. But, prison, in Herod’s time, was not the place where you waited for trial; it was the place where you waited for death. John the Baptizer was as good as dead.

What would Jesus do now in this defining moment? He had options - he could:

  1. Cool it. Back off and save his own life;
  2. Mount a verbal counter attack on Herod; that was mission impossible;
  3. Take up the calling and message of John - and continue to advance the Kingdom of God – come what may.

Jesus decides to pick up where John left off and eventually pays the same price as john.

Jesus’ response is immediate and swift: he moves directly from his quiet home in Nazareth to Capernaum on the travel route by the Sea of Galilee. This is the land of Herod Antipas, who had arrested John and would later judge Jesus. Remember, Jesus, as an infant had fled Herod the great; now, in adulthood, he moved courageously toward Herod the Great’s son like an Olympian taking up the torch of John’s message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

We know that the word for “repentance” in Greek is metanoia – and it means “a change of mind / heart” to thinking outside the box of ego. This is the remedy for the “darkness,” the rut of meaningless human existence in which so many folks find themselves.

Jesus realizes he needs help to teach the lesson of love of God and neighbor; he recruits. He walks by the Sea of Galilee and sees two sets of brothers: peter and Andrew and James and John. He says, come, follow me; I will make you fishers of people.

He was calling them to a far more difficult task than outwitting fish that instinctively seek food. He was calling them to attempt, like himself, to lure people into finding the gut-felt need for meaning in their lives.

Humans are not fish. He could not and would not use the force of a net or a baited hook. Humans have free will. He had only his message as a lure to attract them to the light of truth. Jesus’ image of “catching” is perfect. He seeks the hearts of human beings. The seeking involves luring – as in fishing.

At his call, they immediately follow him. But why? He was charismatic. That is, there was an “air” about him, an air of enthusiasm, of passion. He exuded zeal. When he spoke, he clearly knew what he was talking about - what his Jewish listeners called “speaking with authority.” The four saw this. Jesus did not act “cool.” He was “hot” – not in the current idiom of “hot,” nor fanatically hot [like a nut case], but confidently hot, not lukewarm. His outspoken confidence in his message was contagious. Folks caught his enthusiasm. When they listened to him, they were “hooked.” They responded to him. They believed him – and more importantly, they believed in him.

We do not see much of that fire coming from the hierarchy today. We see them act like reactors, like legislators, not leaders. They legislate hard laws [canons] and soft laws [“guidelines,“], focusing on means to some vague end. They lack fiery zeal for the end – Jesus, our light.

May each of us always keep our eyes on Jesus, our passionate leader and our inspiration. May we continue to see with his eyes, hear with his ears, touch with his hand.