It’s the Third Sunday in Ordinary time, and here are a few thoughts on this Sunday’s readings to help you get to a little more out of the Mass this weekend. The readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 8:23-9:3, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 & 17, and Matthew 4:10-23. The responsorial Psalm is taken from Psalm 27. You can look these readings up in your own Bible, or find the complete text on the US Bishops website.
There’s a pretty good chance this weekend’s homily will have something to do with vocations. You may even hear the vocations story of your priest or deacon – and there’s a good reason for this. The word vocation comes from an old latin word, vocare, which means ‘to call.’ And this Sunday’s Gospel is all about answering a call, as we’ll hear about the day that two sets of brothers (Peter & Andrew and James & John) would be the first to answer the call to follow Jesus.
Following people today means a something very different than it did back then. Think about it: whether it’s a blog, a podcast, or the multitude of social media platforms, it takes absolutely nothing out of us to follow someone… and we do so for a variety of reasons. We may feel compelled to follow someone because they are friends or family or coworkers, and we want them to believe that we support them (even if we don’t actually pay attention to the things they produce.) We might follow someone because of shared interests, or even simply because we want to increase the number of our own followers. We follow these by the click of a button or by simply filling in an email address. And to unfollow them simply requires another click of the button and, boom, it is done.
But to follow someone the way these first brothersfollowed Jesus means something very different. Their choice to follow also meant making the difficult decision to leave behind their father and their fishing boat. Fishing in Galilee in those days was prosperous work – and it was apparently also the family business. Walking away from this business was much more than an ‘unfollow’ – beyond the obvious financial ramifications, it also would have impacted their relationship with their father. But these concerns weren’t enough to stop them: Jesus had called, and they chose to answer, to follow Him.
The first reading gives us a clue as to why they did.
Isaiah 9:1 speaks of a people who “walked in darkness” discovering a “great light.” When the weather gets ugly for a few days – overcast, rainy, or snowing – I can find myself longing to see the sunlight again. If I’m traveling on a dark highway at night, it is a wonderful feeling to see the lights of my destination in the distance. For the people of Israel in the first century, there was a great longing for a different sort of light. The nation was struggling spiritually to live up to her identity as God’s chosen people, and struggling politically, having been conquered multiple times by pagan armies – most recently the Romans. Prophets like Isaiah spoke of hope, of a day when sin and oppression would no longer rule the day. These brothers would have felt the burden and wondered when God would finally come to set things aright (politically and spiritually.) They were waiting for the Messiah.
Jesus’ call to them must have felt like the answer to their prayers: they had found the one they were looking for. The feeling you or I might have when the sun finally breaks through the clouds, or when we reach our destination after a long, dark drive are a hint of the hope (and relief) they would have felt when they heard his words. Simon Peter and Andrew were the first to hear and respond to this invitation – but they were certainly not the last. From the apostles that would come after them right up until a vocation story you may hear this weekend (the way in which God called your priest or deacon to his ministry) – people have heard and answered God’s call over and over and over again, is simply a modern telling of this first story.
Here’s the point: their stories (Andrew, Peter, James, John, and your priest or deacon) are our stories, too. God’s call is not reserved to a choice few as He calls out to all of us. The question to us this weekend is simple: are we willing to answer and follow in a way that requires much more than a click of a button?