Date: Sunday, January 22, 2023
Marv Levy, former coach of the Buffalo Bills would say, “Where would you rather be then right here and right now?” Timing and location are important. St. Matthew tells us that when Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been arrested, Jesus returns to his home at Nazareth in Galilee and then goes to live at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Knowing the voice of the prophet has been silenced and the fate that awaits John the Baptist in prison, Jesus seizes the moment to speak out and proclaim, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Why does Jesus leave his home in Nazareth and reside in Capernaum? Capernaum is a fishing village or town on the Sea of Galilee, and it is located on a road, the “Way of the Sea” that leads from Damascus, Syria through Galilee right down to Egypt and to Africa. It is a trade route. People say, “Galilee is on the way to everywhere.” For an itinerant preacher, Capernaum is an ideal location. Also the Jewish residents in Galilee are in close proximity to Gentiles. Jesus has a ready and receptive audience for his preaching and teaching.
Jesus begins his preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. The service is like our Liturgy of the Word: welcome, opening prayer, readings of the Torah and Prophets, and then a reflection. The leader of the synagogue would invite someone to speak, or a member of the assembly would step forward to address the congregation. We know in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus stands up, a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah is handed to him, he reads some verses, then he sits down and gives a one-line homily. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
But Jesus does more than preach at Capernaum. Walking by the Sea, Jesus sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew, casting a net. They are fishermen. Jesus says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they leave their nets behind and follow Jesus. Walking on Jesus see James and John in a boat with their father Zebedee mending their nets. Jesus calls them. They leave their boat and father behind and go off with Jesus.
We should not assume the dramatic callings of Simon Peter & Andrew and James & John are their first encounters with Jesus. In the Gospel according to St. Luke, there is a prior meeting when Simon & Andrew and James & John are partners together and, at the direction of Jesus, they lower their nets for a great catch of fish. In the Gospel according to John, Andrew and perhaps John (the brother of James) have an earlier contact with Jesus at the Jordan River in Judaea. But whatever their earlier association with Jesus, when Jesus personally invites them to be disciples, they follow him! With Jesus, they go about Galilee, “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” Disciples are students. They are attentive listeners to the words of Jesus and keen observers of his healing actions.
I wonder how many folks at Mass today have a sense of being personally called by Jesus to follow him? Indeed, we have been called by Jesus at our baptism. Like Simon Peter & Andrew and James & John we respond to that calling by gradually getting to know Jesus better and by emulating his way of life. Today, at the instigation of Pope Francis, is Sunday of the Word of God. The Pope is reminding Catholics how important Sacred Scripture is for getting to know Jesus and responding to his call. Saint Jerome translated the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek into Latin so people could hear and understand the Word. St. Jerome put it succinctly, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” I pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to nurture in us a desire to be nourished and transformed by the Word.