First reading Isaiah 8:23-9:3
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 26(27):1,4,13-14
Second reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23
How long did it take me to read the Gospel today? Less than two minutes, I think. But how long did the events in today’s Gospel take to unfold? After John’s arrest, Jesus relocated from Nazareth to Capernaum. Most of us know that moving house takes more than a click of the fingers, and though I’m sure Jesus didn’t have a lot of possessions to move, his was a journey on foot. Capernaum is about a 30 kilometre walk from Nazareth, so if he went direct without rushing, that’s a couple of days walking, perhaps. Give him some time to settle into his lodgings and meet some people in the local community before he begins preaching and there’s at least another few days or possibly weeks or even months. And yet I just read it in less than two minutes. The point I’m getting at here, brothers and sisters, is that the events recounted in the Gospels contain a lot more than we often realise. We only hear the most basic bare bones of the story, but what about the white spaces around the black words on the page? What did Jesus see during these days or weeks or months? Whom did he meet? What glances were exchanged? What did Jesus hear and smell? What conversations were had? How did Jesus feel? All these things, which may not occur to us when we hear the Gospel, are part of the Gospel, because the Gospels aren’t just stories, they are memories, and memories are so multi-dimensional.
Now, we may never know all the nuances and details of these Gospel memories, but if we are willing to take the time to contemplate, we can pry into the memory that is being communicated, and by God’s grace, be drawn into the world and the reality of that memory. In that world much can touch and change us, and many hidden things can be revealed. Let’s consider what we’ve heard today.
Jesus moves to a new town, Capernaum, which was a fishing village of about 1500 people. In population that’s a bit bigger than Mitchell and a bit smaller than Miles, but much smaller in area than both. In other words, it was a small and tightknit community. A careful glean of the Gospels also points out that there was a garrison of Roman soldiers stationed there (Lk 7:1-8), as well as a Roman tax office (Matt 9:9), and the home of a royal official (Jn 4:46-54). Five of his future twelve disciples also lived there– Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew the tax collector. All these details give us a fair picture of some of the sights and encounters Jesus most certainly had, particularly as he began to attend the synagogue each week according to his custom. In such a community, Jesus was known to everybody very quickly. He would have been subject of conversation and speculation, and probably gossip as small towns often harbour. He himself surely saw, heard and encountered a variety of social and religious situations, given that there was a tax office and a Roman presence there. It is also unthinkable that he did not encounter his future disciples in the synagogue and in the marketplace of such a small town. And into all this, Jesus the newcomer, begins to preach: “repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” Imagine! People, including his future disciples, would have very quickly developed an opinion of Jesus. All this, brothers and sisters, we can contemplate by a close reading of the Gospel. Suddenly the world of that memory, which took less than two minutes to read, begins to be unlocked. And now, let’s contemplate the heart of that memory:
Jesus is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he sees Peter and Andrew working their trade as fisherman. They’ve met this newcomer. They’ve heard him start telling people to repent. They’ve seen him in the synagogue. Jesus approaches on the shore and calls out to them, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” What happens next is remarkable: “they left their nets at once and followed him.” Without hesitation it seems, they immediately leave their nets, their livelihood, and go after Jesus. This is remarkable, but what happens in that split second in which they hear Jesus’ call is what is truly remarkable. What went on in that fleeting moment of connection when their gazes intertwined and they comprehended Jesus’ words? I mean, this must have been a powerful and overwhelming moment. Consider, what would it take to make you walk away from everything you know, your livelihood and even your family (as was the case for James and John), to follow after this mysterious newcomer? He didn’t promise money or fame or comfort. They were signing a blank cheque. Something lifechanging happened in that exchange. What fullness of life, what love, what destiny they must have perceived in this man! What would it take for you to follow him, dear brothers and sisters? I invite you to contemplate this exchange, which as the Church’s memory is our memory. Place yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. What do you see in the Lord’s call and gaze? What does it elicit in you? What is your response?