Isaiah 8:23-9:3 + Psalm 27 + 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17 + Matthew 4:12-23
(This Homily was not delivered at Saint Mark Parish, but rather at Saint Thomas More University Parish in Norman, OK)
Matthew has now finished his presentation of Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaish’s prophecies, so now begins the mission. The transition is marked starkly and simply. The end of one era and the beginning of this new one is announced in once sentence: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” The voice crying in the wilderness is now a voice thundering in prison. Authorities are doing what they always do when they are threatened: trying to silence the opposition. Matthew tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and went to live by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. Those details are intended to shake us awake and get our attention. Jesus moved right into the heart of Herod’s territory: that’s Zebulun and Naphtali! As an infant, Jesus ran from Herod. As an adult he does not run. The message of light heads for the darkness. The message of life goes to the land of the dead.
As the message or torch of John gets passed to Jesus, he is quick to pass it on to others, and so he looks around and begins to call out first to Simon and his brother Andrew and then James and his brother John. Do you notice that these are family members? Matthew does not want us to miss that fact. To make sure we don’t miss it, he mentions it twice in one sentence. The first thought of these men is to share their experience within the family. Jesus is about to change their idea and their experience of family. “Family” for disciples of Jesus is not a matter of the clan or blood relatives. Remember how he responds when told that his mother, and family are outside wishing to speak to him? What Jesus has to offer is bigger than our little provincial minds first think about. What Jesus calls us and these first disciples to do is to look beyond the fish in the lake, so to speak. There is something greater to do than just fish for fish or fish for food. The hunger Jesus has is not for fish it is for you and me.
So this Gospel today raises some real issues for us.
I think it raises the issue of “family” and family values which some are so quick to claim as their standard. In the last few years every time elections role around we start hearing about “family values.” I’ve never figured out what those are, and those who claim to stand for them don’t seem able to articulate them very well.
But one thing is for certain: Hate is not a family value. Taking care of number one is not a family value. Racism, Sexism, and all the issuses around migration are not family values when families are torn apart by deportation.
For the disciple of Christ Jesus, “family” is not defined by DNA.
The Kingdom of Heaven does not exist to serve the family.
The family exists to serve the Kingdom.
The message has been passed on. The Light that must shine in darkness is in our hands because we are in this room together proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes in glory. We are called to leave what is secure, safe, and predictable for something higher and greater. Like Jesus, we are called to leave Nazareth and it’s safety to with courage into the face of danger, hostility, and power.
We are not called to make money, we are called to make peace and secure the Kingdom of God.
We are parents, children, spouses, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisiters; but before we were that, we were chidlren of God. That is our true and first identity.
When that finally sinks into our hearts and our minds, chances are we can survive a death or a broken family and go on to choose a better one from the strangers God sends into our life. Pay attention to the kind of people Jesus chooses for a share in his mission. Those brothers were not influential and powerful. They had no great education, influence or wealth. They were not poor. They were simply ordinary working people with not great background or any particular preparation for what was to come, and probably no great future ahead of them.
It is no different today. I can tell you that from my own story. God is calling today for you to become something and then to do something. It works in that order. The issue is not what am I to do, but first, what am I to become. Then God will form, shape, teach, and bless you with what you need to do what God wants. There is no waiting for you to finish your degree, get out of school, till you get married, or till the kids are grown for you to start becoming what God wants. “He called them,” says this Gospel, “and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”