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Responding to the Call

Originally Appeared in : Vol. 100 No. 02

On January 26, 2020, Catholics will celebrate the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time as the “Sunday of the Word of God” for the first time, as directed by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter <i>Aperuit illis</i> (“He opened to them”) of September 30, 2019.

We will hear from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 8:23-9:3 (“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”), from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:10- 13, 17 (“For Christ did not send me to baptize 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”), and from the Gospel according to Matthew 4:12-23, which sees Jesus’ initial proclamation of the Gospel in Galilee (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy announced in the first reading.

This initial preaching of Jesus of Nazareth is the same as the summons of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But when Jesus repeats John’s message, his proclamation has a new meaning, for the kingdom of heaven is present in him, the King.

The imperative metanoie- te, actually means more than ‘repent.” Its full sense is “change your minds,” implying a full conversion of heart, mind, soul, and way of life, a turning from evil to good, from false religion to the worship of the one true God. John preached a baptism of metanoia, of repentance for sin but also of conversion to God. Metanoia is a rejection of the domination of Satan and acceptance of the dominion of God, a progression from an interior decision to an all-encompassing reality, including, but not limited to, external acts of penance.

Conversion entails discipleship, so it is no surprise that Matthew follows Mark in recounting the call of Christ’s first disciples immediately after his initial preaching. Unlike other Rabbis, Jesus chose his students, disciples: “It was not you who chose me; I chose you.” A rabbi’s disciples paid their “tuition” by performing for their rabbi the usual chores of household servants, but they drew the line at washing feet, as we will consider at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper during Holy Week. The first disciples of Rabbi Jesus were Simon and his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, all fishermen. The Lord’s call to discipleship was—as it is always is—personal, a call by name: “Simon, Andrew, James, John— Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This call is issued to all, although not everyone responds to it. Those who do respond to the Lord’s call will do what Simon, Andrew, James, John and countless others have done: they will “leave their boats” to follow him as his disciples. To be a disciple (mathetes, discipulus, “pupil”) is first of all to be a student at the feet of the Master, Rabbi Jesus.

To be a disciple is to learn from the teacher who chose us—unlike other rabbis of his time, Jesus did not wait for potential stu- dents to choose him from among other teachers, but actively sought out his disciples. Our Christian life of metanoia is at the same time a life of disci- pleship, of disciplined learning from the Lord, who alone “has the words of everlasting life.” We would do well to listen more attentively to the teachings of Jesus, which are so beautifully laid out in five great sermons in Matthew’s Gospel, which we are reading at Mass this year. On the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time we will hear the beginning of the greatest of the Lord’s sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, with the intriguing set of Beatitudes, which describe the qualities of those called to discipleship in the kingdom and detail the kind of lives they are to lead.

Ultimately, of course, disciples, like all students, face “graduation”—not in the sense that they cease to be disciples or learners, but rather in the sense that they are all sent out to teach others, as members of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church, to become “fishers of men.” We all have an “apostolate,” some as ordained ministers of the Church in “apostolic succession,” but most as lay people who have their own apostolate “in the marketplace,” carrying out in their own ways the Lord’s Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The life of the Christian progresses as a series of responses to the Lord’s calls, from “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” through “Come, follow me,” to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” If these calls seem should too daunting, the disciples of Jesus Christ can take courage from the Lord’s promise at the end of the Great Commission: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The Sunday of the Word of God served as a fine introduction to Saint Matthew’s account of the preaching and teachings of Rabbi Jesus for his disciples in 2020.

Father Douglas K. Clark is the retired pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.

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