P. Luis CASASUS, President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, January 22, 2023 | III Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 8:23b–9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13.17; Mt 4: 12-23.
1. God’s ways and our ways. Today we can clearly see the relationship, on Sundays in Ordinary Time, between the First Reading and the Gospel, which is read in continuity, while from the Old Testament passages are chosen to prepare the Gospel scene of the day. Today, for example, the prophecy about Galilee is a prelude to the fulfillment of Jesus, who begins his ministry precisely in that region.
Today the First Reading comes from Isaiah who lived through the terror of the Assyrian invasion of Palestine towards the close of the 8th century before Christ. In the region of Galilee, it was as if chaos that reigned before the creation when “darkness covered the abyss” (Gen 1:2) had returned. The depressed people had lost all hope. It was resigned to see the glorious “Way of the sea” that, passing through Palestine, connected Egypt to Mesopotamia and forever guarded by the Assyrian army.
At this time of general smashing, the voice of the prophet announces: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those who live in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (9:1).
It is the promise of a reversal of the situation. With his forward-looking gaze, Isaiah sees the Assyrian armies withdraw and Israel to resume its life in joy and peace.
The light referred to by the prophet was a new king, a descendant of David’s family. He was destined to carry out the mission to dispel the darkness introduced by the foreign invaders.
What happened historically? Nothing. The Assyrians continued to occupy the lands of Zebulon and Naphtali for another hundred years. Was the prophet deceived? The historical perspective that we have is very narrow and limited. If we do not immediately see our projects materializing, we think that God has forgotten us. He fulfills his promises, but in an unexpected way and in God’s due time. God makes no mistakes.
If the dreams of the people of Isaiah’s time were met, other oppressors would have succeeded the Assyrians because it is the logic of the world. The loser is eliminated and the winner must immediately confront other claimants.
God does not enter into this conflict. He has a plan that radically disrupts the repetitive and inconclusive logic of the struggle for power. The prophecy is realized, according to the logic of God, 750 years later.
When Jesus showed up along the shores of the lake, the kingdom of the Assyrians had already collapsed hundreds of years, but the darkness of the world had not been dissolved. It was the darkness of evil, violence, oppression, corruption, and selfishness. This darkness began to thin out—as Matthew will say in today’s Gospel—only when, with the beginning of the public life of Jesus, a light has shone on the mountains of Galilee.
But, the conclusion from all of the above is not simply that we are ignorant and impatient. Rather, we are interested in two consequences: that no one can undo the divine plans and that despite any limitations, we are called to actively participate in them.
2. What heartstrings did Jesus touch in the hearts of those fishermen of Galilee? It would be fascinating to know the first conversations Christ had with them, how He would be interested in their lives, their problems and their dreams. It would be unique to hear how He shared with them His passion for what His Father had entrusted to Him.
The truth is that these were moments of pure ecstatic experience, where some men received the light and the strength to leave their daily world, more or less comfortable for them, and immerse themselves in a commitment to a new community, with internal and external challenges, and all this without a complete understanding of what the Master was proposing to them.
Surely, these first disciples felt that the possibility was opening up to them of truly coming into deep and intimate union with other human beings and, at the same time, with God himself. Jesus begins by speaking to them about ” fishing men”, and these fishermen undoubtedly knew of complicated situations in their families, of conflicts at work, of abuses by the authorities…. Even if their knowledge of the Scriptures was not deep, they would have the certainty that things could be better in their personal lives, in their relationships, in their country. And, above all, they were convinced that they could do something relevant to bring other people to an authentic happiness, longed for in their hearts and announced in the Sacred Books.
Of course, we feel relieved and grateful when someone helps us solve a problem, but we are so complicated that it is hard for us to accept the love we receive. Sometimes because we feel unworthy of it; other times because we have the impression that “we have to pay the debt” and, unfortunately, our pride also suffers and tells us that it would be better to be self-sufficient.
Christ breaks that circle in the souls of those fishermen and in us and teaches us how to prepare the way between our neighbor and God. It is the best we can do and that is why the Master praised the work of the Baptist in a singular way. Christ did not mend the fishermen’s nets or pay them for a new boat; he placed before them the possibility of doing lasting and profound good and of transmitting fullness of life to others. It is very difficult not to accept that offer, even if you and I often do. That is why the life of the rich young man, who refused to follow the Master, was probably, from then on, very miserable.
The fishermen of Capernaum began to live a permanent ecstasy. This requires being aware that people are waiting for us, that they need us in spite of our smallness. It is something similar to what a lover says of the person he loves: We were born for each other. But Christ makes us see that it is not a question of a simple personal desire, but of a Providence that gathers us together, brings us closer to our neighbor, always for something new and great. Although at times, everything seems to be a coincidence, it is not so.
On many occasions, Pope Francis has recounted the story of his own vocation when he felt called by God to serve Him as a priest. On September 21, 1953, a 16-year-old boy named Jorge Bergoglio was planning to go out to celebrate with friends an Argentinian national holiday called “Students’ Day.” Jorge decided to start the holiday by going to pray at his parish church, dedicated to St. Joseph. When he arrived at church, he saw a priest he didn’t recognize, but who seemed to radiate holiness. He decided to approach him, and asked him to hear his confession. We don’t know what Jorge said to the priest, or what the priest said in response. But we do know that that confession totally changed not only the teenager’s plans for the day, but for the whole course of his life. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said:
For me, this was an experience of encounter: I found that Someone was waiting for me. Yet, I do not know what happened. I can’t remember. I do not know why that particular priest was there, whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess. But the truth is that Someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession, I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.
The Holy Spirit prepares and educates our ecstasy. Especially with encounters that may seem trivial or insignificant, perhaps difficult. Therefore, if tomorrow I meet an enemy, I must not forget that it is not by chance. If I meet someone who lives with me, I must not think that it is “as usual”. If I meet someone “difficult”, I must remember that the Holy Spirit is telling me what to do to bring him closer to God.
We can be certain that Christ is looking for us, day and night. In today’s Gospel text the insistence on the verbs of movement must be noted. Jesus does not stop for a moment: “As Jesus walked by the lake of Galilee… and then he went on from there…He went around all Galilee”. Who is called must realize that he will not be granted any rest and there will not be any stop along the way. Jesus wants to be followed day and night and throughout life. There are no moments of exemption from commitments taken. Our answer then must be prompt and generous as that of Peter, Andrew, James and John who immediately they left their nets, the boat and their father and followed him.
3. Finally, if we truly believe in the way our father and Founder calls us, that is, living holiness in common, it must be equally clear that the greatest difficulty is the division in our living together. Just as it happened to the community of Corinth, which received all the formation, example and guidance of St. Paul, only to fall into permanent conflict, it can happen in any of our communities. The origin of these painful situations is not abstract, doctrinal or sophisticated.
What caused such discord in Corinth were -then as now- selfishness, the desire to dominate others, to prevail among others, and to impose oneself on others. The light of the Gospel, lit by Paul, had shone in Corinth, but the obscurity of sin and the darkness of death were still very dense and were hard to dissolve.
But what must preside over our reflection on my sins, yours and those of our neighbor is above all that our faults are NOT stronger than grace. Many times the shortcomings of the first disciples have been highlighted, but they make it even more evident that God carries out his plans with people who are sinners. It is mysterious, but love goes on forever in many ways. As a famous singer says:
Future lovers, perhaps
Will love each other without knowing
With the love that I one day
I gave to you
Let us recognize that we are in the same situation as the first disciples; at the same time that we sincerely long to do great good to people, we associate in ourselves forms of pride that we find it difficult to identify and recognize (the two things), and for this very reason, we must recognize that we receive special graces. Some saints summed them up in intimate and discreet encounters with Christ, who continues to walk along our shores.
What is striking and moving in today’s Readings is the line: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Human history is numbing, meaningless, depressive, ghastly, yet “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Many dismiss it as childish wishfulness, but others celebrate the incredible power of hope. And hope is along with faith and love one of the three powers that are fundamental to the message of the Kingdom of God.
Across the centuries those words have generated hope and conviction in difficult and barren times. Again and again they have shaped communities that the gates of hell could not resist. Their power has not been lost. a voice from heaven declared, “Listen to him”.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,