Sunday, Jan. 22, is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass readings: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17.
We Catholics know that Christianity needs an organization — a Church, with a teaching body and people whose job it is to make sure we all get it right.
But Catholics also need to know that Christianity is not a call first to an organization. First, it is a call by a Person — Jesus Christ — and what we are called to is to reach other real persons and introduce him to them.
Today’s readings stress both the individual calling and the institutional mode it takes.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls people to two things: to “the kingdom of heaven” and to himself.
By “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and illness among the people,” he shows what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a place where the Father’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. It is the model for what the Church is supposed to be.
But by his encounters with Peter and his brother Andrew, he gives that a more directly personal motivation: He calls people to his very self.
He sees the two brothers “casting a net into the sea.” They were likely following a method of fishing that takes a lot of skill: watching below and throwing a round net into the sea at just the right moment. He tells them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He is calling them to the same life of skilled work, only with a higher aim.
Something about the encounter inspires them to drop everything and follow Jesus. Is it that he watched and knew them before he invited them? Is it that he personalized his message to them? It was probably much more than that.
Look at the incredible authority in what Jesus says. He doesn’t say, “Come and work with me”; he says, “Come after me.” He doesn’t say, “You can be” fishers of men; he says, “I will make you” fishers of men.
It is a call to surrender to Jesus, and it works powerfully. As the long form of the Gospel continues, Jesus encounters more brothers, James and John, and invites them. They follow right away.
This is how the calling works with us, too. We are called to the kingdom of God. We are called to the Church. But we are first called by Jesus Christ to Jesus Christ.
Paul stresses this in the second reading. He doesn’t want followers of Jesus to line up behind one teacher or another, associating ourselves with one faction in the Church against another. He doesn’t want us to associate ourselves with anyone but Jesus.
He says Jesus sent him not to “baptize in the name of Paul,” but “to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”
Our job, then, is to get to know Jesus very well. Read about him. Talk to him. Encounter him in the sacraments.
The men in today’s Gospel and second reading dropped everything to follow him — and transformed first themselves and then the world.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at
Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.