Catching souls for God

  • January 12, 2011
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 23 (Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Walking in darkness and thirsting for a great light take on a special meaning during the long winter months. The many coloured lights of the Christmas season are but one attempt to roll back the gloom and compensate for the long hours of darkness.

Thoughts of spring and long summer days are helpful during these months. But there is another kind of darkness: the sense of hopelessness and gloom that occur after a great disaster or tragedy. We can think of wars and natural disasters of our own time. Darkness and the absence of hope are often the daily bread of those whose homes, cities, families and lives have been devastated. Although light, hope and joy are in short supply they top everyone’s wish list.

Isaiah’s words are addressed to part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The time is the mid-eighth century BC and the lands of Zebulon and Naphtali have just been gobbled up by the predatory and brutal Assyrian Empire. Isaiah’s words of encouragement assure the people of the north, including Galilee, that although they were the first victims of Israel’s enemies they will also be among the first to participate in Israel’s restoration and redemption. The light of a new day and a new age will spring from that devastated land and there will be deliverance and freedom. With faith in God’s fidelity and compassionate mercy all painful and negative experiences can be endured with grace, hope and dignity.

Disunity, division and strife can destroy committed communities and taint the noblest moral and spiritual ideals. Paul is relentless in his admonishment of the community in Corinth. Factions have arisen in the community and people have gathered around various self-proclaimed spiritual teachers and leaders. The result has been quarrelling, division and polarization — and that is what happens when individual egos reign supreme. But Paul rightly insists that there is but one teacher and one reality, Christ Jesus, and all who follow Him must be united in mind and ideal. This does not mean that everyone has to think alike or be absorbed into some sort of collective thought system. But all must be on the same page when it comes to the things that matter — and for Paul, love, unity and living in the spirit is what matters.

In our own polarized world, and especially our polarized and fragmented Christian church, we need to lift our collective gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. The last thing the world needs is another “ism,” party, clique, ideology or splinter group. We all stand humbled and hopefully speechless before the cross.

Matthew and his community believed that Jesus Himself was the long-awaited great light, and the fact that He arose from Galilee only confirmed it in their minds. The conditions were right: Israel was prostrate and at the mercy of its enemies (this time the Romans) and had prayed fervently for deliverance by the hand of God. The proclamation of Jesus roused their hopes, for He insisted that the hour was at hand. The kingdom, or “reign,” of God was imminent. His message was simple: prepare yourselves and get right with God.

We can see the force and attraction of both His person and His message, for as He walks along many literally drop whatever they are doing to follow Him, their lives being forever changed. Fishing is not an idyllic “field-and-stream” image in the New Testament but a metaphor for the fathering of souls in the end times and the visitation of God. The most important calling is to be a “fisher of people” — catching souls for God. This can only be accomplished through the power and attraction of a person filled with God’s Spirit. The proclaimed message is important, as well as the manner in which it is proclaimed. Threats, fear, bullying, manipulation, guilt and the like simply will not do — they are lazy and ultimately destructive approaches.  

Finally, the message is given its stamp of authenticity by concrete action. Jesus relieves the suffering and burdens of people and raises their spirits and hopes with the Good News of God’s reign. And it should be good news and not a source of dread to anyone who yearns for a just, peaceful and compassionate world.

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