Jesus Our Shepherd
Matthew 4:12-23
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he went back to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town near the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the way to the sea
on the far side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
the people who lived in darkness have seen a great light;
a light has dawned on those living in the land of the shadow of death.”

From that time on, Jesus began proclaiming the message: “Change your hearts. Change your minds, for the reign of God is at hand.”

As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers, Simon who was called Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.” Immediately they abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus.

Jesus walked further along and caught sight of a second pair of brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus invited them also, and immediately they abandoned both their boat and their father to follow him. Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Reign of heaven and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people.

Homily for 23 Juanuary 2005
Fr. Frank Baiocchi

A patient in a psychiatric hospital was absolutely convinced he was dead. He was totally obsessed by that thought. He was certain he was a corpse! Nurses and doctors tried to convince him otherwise, but failed. Finally, a staff nurse got him to agree with the proposition that corpses don’t bleed, so he permitted her to conduct a little test. Before he could change his mind, the nurse pricked his finger with a needle, causing a drop of blood to the surface of his skin. The patient looked at the blood on his finger, studied it quietly for a moment, and then shouted: “Well I’ll be damned! Corpses do bleed!”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to change our hearts, to change our minds. He invites us to change the way we feel about life, the way we look at life. But real change of heart and mind is difficult for us all, not just for that patient in the psychiatric hospital! We cling to irrational ideas and unworkable habits. Then year after year, we continue in these ruts.

Why do we support the status quo of a scandal-ridden church led by discredited and unrepentant bishops? Why do we remain in abusive, unloving relationships? Why do we glorify military might, start pre-emptive wars and claim that God is only on our side? Why do we consider ourselves of all the people on earth to be God’s “chosen people”? Why do legions of us bury ourselves in dull, unfulfilling jobs? Why do we so bitterly condemn, even hate, people born with a homosexual orientation?

We do this because we are afraid. Fear cripples us. We are reluctant to change because we are afraid to change. To bring about the change that Jesus invites in us means to let go of things we already have in the hope of getting something else, something better. But we don’t have that “something better” in hand yet. So we need a leap like a trapeze artist. At a circus, you know, there is that one heart-stopping moment when the high-flying trapeze artist lets go of her trapeze and jumps into thin air before making contact with her partner’s outstretched hands and finding safety there. We need a similar leap that forces us to let go of our security before we have something else, something of greater value to take its place.

Look at the four Galilean fishermen in today’s Gospel. They do something we may not have done. They leave behind everything they’ve grown up with: their boats, their nets, their livelihood, even their families. [Whenever I read this Gospel, I can’t help but picture that poor dad, Zebedee, whose two sons leave him standing alone on the beach!] Of course these fishermen didn’t get the big picture. They didn’t realize their decision to follow Jesus would require more later on; but they did respond to the grace of the moment, and that’s all Jesus was then asking.

At our Baptisms, God calls each of us by name and gives us the very same mission that Jesus has: to be peacemakers in a world bent on war, to be seekers of justice in a world bent on greed. Today again, Jesus invites us to follow him. Shall we respond to this grace of the moment? If we say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation, what must we change in our lives? Perhaps we really are still too afraid, too stuck in our ways. Or perhaps we who “walk in darkness” do truly now see Jesus as the “Great Light” to which the prophet Isaiah points!

Today’s Gospel invites each of us to put aside our fears and anxieties, to follow Jesus as did the fishermen brothers. In preparing this homily, I discovered that Jesus’ invitation to these fishermen isn’t necessarily an invitation to “follow” Jesus on his journey. The word Matthew uses doesn’t necessarily mean to “follow” Jesus; it could just as easily mean to “accompany” Jesus, to walk with him on the way, step by step. Then it’s not Jesus telling us to walk in the footsteps he walked 2000 years ago, and he’ll be waiting for us at journey’s end. Rather, Jesus is telling us to walk the journey right alongside him, with him; Jesus himself is our companion each step of the way. Can we really let go of our fears for one heart-stopping moment, make that leap, and grab his hand? He’s waiting for our decision.