1999 01 – 3rd Sun Ord (Prison Writings)
Is 8, 32-9, 3
1 Cor 1, 10-13. 17
Mt 4, 12-23
By F. Cordaro
(Written December 16, 1998 in So Md)
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested Matthew 4: 12
This is the 3rd week in a row that John the Baptist plays a part in our Gospel reading. Only this week, he plays a much smaller role than in the previous two weeks. In the Gospel this week, news of John’s arrest appears in the first verse. Jesus has just recently returned from his 40 day fast and temptation period in the desert. He was ready to initiate his public ministry. He was waiting for the right moment, the right sign to begin. News of John’s arrest was that moment, the sign he was looking for. Jesus immediately moves from Nazareth in southern Galilee to Capernaum, a town on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee in Northern Galilee. From Matthew’s point of view, this is an issue of Old Testament staging. He sees in Jesus’ relocation to Capernaum a fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah foretold in this weeks first reading, “Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali along the sea beyond the Jordan, heathen Galilee: A people living in darkness has seen a great light.” (Mt.4:15-16).
The tribal territories of Zebulon and Naphtali were the first to be destroyed by the Assyrian armies (733 – 32B.C.) during the first Isaiah’s tenure. In this tragedy the prophet foretold that from these two devastated territories the Lord would send a great light, they will be redeemed and the yoke of their oppression will be destroyed. (Is.8:23-9:3) Isaiah goes out to proclaim (Is.9:5-6) the coming of a great Prince of Peace, who will make these things happen. The New Testament authors believed Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. It matters little to Matthew that Capernaum is located only in the former territory of Naphtali and that the sea Isaiah was referring to was the Mediterranean and not the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus may have had other reasons for starting his “Kingdom of God” movement in Capernaum. Northern Galilee was fertile ground for revolutionary new ideas and movements. An area in which the Romans had invested heavily, building ten new cities, Galilee was one of the commercial centers of the region. It was a truly cosmopolitan area with a mixed population, with several cultural and religious groups represented. Unlike their fellow Jews in the hill country and land locked territory of Judah to their south, the Jews in Galilee were forced to be more open and accepting of their more prosperous and influential non-Jewish neighbors.
This mixing of peoples and cultures brought with it a mixing of ideas and belief systems. There must have been something about the 1st Century Galilean Jew because history tells us that there were 3 major Jewish rebellions that took place in that century and each one started in the same way, some self proclaimed prophet from Galilee rallied the people into a rebellion.
“Reform Your Lives! The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” Mt 4: 17
Jesus picks up where John left off. Jesus’ initial message is the same as John’s, word for word. “Reform your lives! The Kingdom of heaven is at hand”. But John only pointed to the coming of the Kingdom, with Jesus the Kingdom has come.
“Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” Mt 4:19
Every new movement has its own Rabbis, and every new Rabbi has his own disciples. When Jesus went looking for his first disciples he went to the Sea of Galilee, to the center of the regions main economic base, its fishing industry. He first called on a couple of small independent Jewish fishermen.
Matthew’s account of Jesus call of his first disciples is striking for its brevity. Seeing the brothers Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea Jesus simply says, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of people.” The text says Peter and Andrew abandoned their nets and followed him. He likewise did the same with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were working alongside their father when they left everything to follow Jesus.
It’s at moments like these in our Gospel account that I want to say, “Wait a minute! Hold up! I want to know more”. I would like an explanation. Who were these guys, what about their families, their wives, and their children? How can they just drop everything and follow Jesus? What about poor Zebedee and his family business? Do not his sons owe him more respect?
The Gospel accounts of the call of Jesus’ disciples give us scant background information about them and little or not information about the personal, inner struggle each must have undergone to make the life long, life changing, radical commitment to follow Jesus. For the Gospel writers the most important concern and focus of their story is the “what” and “who” to follow. They leave to each individual and each new generation of Christians to work out for themselves the “how” this call is to be lived out.
All Saints by Robert Ellsberg:
As most of you know, Fr. Larry and I write these weekly Lectionary Reflections a few weeks ahead of time to give Fr. Mike Amadeo time to receive our rough “hand written” text, to edit them, type, copy and mail them out to you in time to be of some use in your homily preparation. So I’m actually writing this week’s reflection a week before Christmas, while Fr. Larry and I are being held in the County Jail and are on our way to some Federal Prison where our conditions should be greatly improved. County jails are not very pleasant places to be. Often times they serve as nothing more than human warehouses. They are some or the hardest places to do time. Each county jail has its own particular rules and restrictions that they deem necessary to maintain security.
In the Charles County Jail they have decided that books, newspapers, magazines, newsletters and newspaper articles are dangerous security risks and do not allow inmates to receive them. As you can imagine, this has been a hard restriction for me to live under, especially since the jail library is sorely lacking in good reading material.
However, in the process of my trying to get books sent into me through different channels I did manage to receive one book from the outside. It was Robert Ellsberg’s book, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints. Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time. This book was a Godsend to me. It is 571 pages long. It has a one to two page entry for every day of the year. The selections of people are wide and varied. Not all are Catholics a few were non-believers. They span the centuries from Old Testament times to the present. They came from all over the world, from different cultures and faith traditions, though most were Catholics. Some I knew, many I did not.
It took me several weeks to read this book. I read it slowly, deliberately, savoring each entry. I did not want it to end. It is an impressive collection of short life stories of all types of people. There were monks, mystics, theologians, martyrs, scientists, bishops and popes, founders and foundresses, lay brothers, Quakers, Protestants, Jews, pastors, missionaries, abbots and abbesses, virgins, priests, widows, scholars, philosophers, poets, nuns, peacemakers, artists, pacifists, cosmologists, slaves, kings, queens, spiritual directors, prophets, hermits, and non violent resisters. Each entry gave a sense of the person, the times in which they lived and the challenge they faced in being faithful to their call.
As I started to get into the book I found myself asking the same questions that I asked of this weeks Gospel story of the call of the disciples. I wanted to know more of the personal struggle each person went through. There was just enough information to wet my appetite to want to learn more about the person. To Ellsberg’s credit, after each entry he gave a primary reference source for further reading. What struck me about the book was the wide range of people covered. They were from all kinds of backgrounds. Each faced a unique historical situation and had to struggle with what it meant to be faithful for that particular time and place. For the majority of the entrees, that meant being faithful to Jesus. The one thing they all shared in common was their singular commitment to the truth they were given. In reading Ellsberg’s All Saints I gained an appreciation for the Gospel’s way of emphasizing in the call to discipleship the who (Jesus) and the what (the Gospel Way) and leaving to each generation of readers to figure out the how of becoming a disciple of Jesus for their own time and place.