“Have you ever left something behind somewhere?” I often do and to guard against this happening, I usually carry a hand bag (back bag actually) where I assemble all my necessary personal effects on the go. One funny but very serious incidence took place some time ago. I came back from a trip and at the arrival we had to pass through the immigration protocols before going to the baggage claim area. There were so many passengers because two international flights just landed. It took a great deal of time for me to recover my bags.
While I was waiting for my two bags to appear on the luggage belt, I was sure that I had my back bag hanging on my back supported by my upper arms. I later got my two bags, and as well got an offer for a lift from an old friend whose driver was already waiting outside. Minutes after we were ready to go and we left. While on the way to the city, I thought about my house key and wanted to be sure that it was my hand bag but my hand bag was nowhere to be found. It was rather embarrassing for me to tell my friend that I couldn’t see my hand bag and he asked his driver to stop so that I can cross check in the trunk of the car. The bag was not there either and we had to go back to the airport. On the way back to the airport, I thought about the things in the bag, my international passport, money, and some other important things; I was worried! We got to the airport and I had to go through a protocol check before I was allowed to enter the arrival point. On reaching, my heart began to pound but…. there was my back bag where I left it when I was getting the other bags from the luggage belt onto a trolley!
It is generally very human to leave things behind, but very hurtful when you cannot find them again. Today we have another angle to leaving things behind. Here we are presented with the fact of wilfully leaving of EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY behind for the sake of a greater THING and PERSON. You can call it purposeful abandonment or wilful forgetting.
On this third Sunday of our new “liturgical semester” we are presented with the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ after the arrest of John who baptized him and witnessed to him. The events surrounding this beginning is very important because they impact greatly on the nature and purpose his ministry.
In the first place, we are told that our Lord withdrew from Nazareth (his hometown) to the seaside Capernaum (the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali). Here we have a confirmation of the oracle of Isaiah in the first reading which foretold a coming relief for those there referred to as walking in darkness. There is always a divinely instituted starting point for every ministry. God willed that the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ should start from the most needful point; a place described as being in darkness. Often preachers of the word of God prefer places of convenience without paying attention to where God prefers. Next we discover that most successful people became what they are outside their hometowns. For Abraham to become the father of a great nation he had to leave his father’s house and his hometown (Gen. 12:1-2).
From the beginning of the fourth chapter of the gospel of Matthew we discover that our Lord was alone preparing for his ministry. He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he had encountered and defeated the devil during the temptations that trailed his fasting. Now intending to go public, he went in search of followers.
It is most worthy to note that the first place he went to seek followers was around the Sea of Galilee and among fishermen. Why didn’t he go to the Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, the Scribes and other groups with people of higher learning? The answer is simple. Just as he was not born among the rich and the learned, our Lord went for the humble, teachable and unassuming folks. Furthermore, fishermen are known to be patient, painstaking, and always at their trade and that explains the reason why they could toil all night (Luke 5:5). In fact if our Lord should come into our present context, he will still go for the simple hearted, the teachable and unassuming and these can be found among the simple folks around us.
The highest point of the narrative was the prompt response of those he called. We are told that Simon Peter and his brother Andrew left their nets and followed him while James and John in addition to their nets also left their father behind and followed our Lord. This rapid response to our Lord’s simple invitation “follow me” leaves us with so much to ponder. By dropping their nets they changed their vocation from being fish handler to being good news harbingers. The nets stood for them sources of income and sustenance, but their response made the Lord their ideal source of sustenance and support. Furthermore they (James and John) left their father in addition to the nets. This supplies us with the information that they placed the good news and God before their family. If Simon and Andrew had their father there they could have done the same.
From the unquestioning response the four foremost apostles gave to the Lord’s invitation, we see faith and trust in action. Obviously if he had called the Pharisees, Priests, Scribes and others, the response would have been “who gave you authority?” (Matthew 21:23; Luke 20:1-2; Mark 11:27-28). Unlike these people, the apostles wasted no time in following the Lord as if they knew that it was a special privileged to be called to become an apostle.
The Lord has not stopped calling. By virtue of our baptism we are called into the Christian fold where we share in the priestly, kingly and prophetic office of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore we are called into various vocations and ministries. The question that we must answer is “how responsive are we to the call?” And “are we ready to leave EVERTHING and EVERYBODY to answer that call”? There are indeed many “modern nets, and fathers” fighting for our attention. Are we ready to let go and answer the call fully.
There is no doubt that many people give half responses to God; they answer the call but are still clinging to their “nets and fathers”; a situation of divided attention. Our Lord did instruct that anyone who wants to be his follower must renounce himself (herself) and take up the cross (everyday) and follow him (Matt. 16:24; Mark 3:34; Luke 9:23). In our day and age we discover that there are many people whose response to the Christian life starts and ends only in the Church and within Church activities. But when they are at home, in their work or leisure locations they become “unchristian” in their words and lifestyles; in order words giving half-baked response to the call by our Lord Jesus Christ.
If we pay attention to the narrative, we will discover that in the context of that call, our Lord gave them a job description. In his words they are to become “fishers of men”. This presents a clear delineation of the scope and limitation of their undertaking. Being fishers of men means that they are (in the manner of their former trade) meant to catch souls for the one who has called them. They are not expected to be fishers of wealth or fame. It is most unfortunate that we have in our day and age individuals who are fishing from the pockets of men instead of fishing their souls for Christ; definitely they are half-baked in their response or they called themselves like the man who offered to follow Jesus Christ but was disallowed (Luke 9:57-58).
There is a message also for those who are receive the good news from those commissioned to spread the good news. Often time people make the messengers to become larger and bigger than the message. We see this playing out in our days where ministries are not rooted on Jesus Christ the ideal sender but on one pastor, prophet or priest or another. The messengers will come and go but the message will remain. Every worthwhile call to ministry must be founded on Jesus Christ. This situation reared its head as we saw in the second reading where Paul had to address issues concerning divisions by some taking to Cephas other to Paul and still others to Apollos. (1 Cor.1:10-13;17)
As Christians we should be conscious of the fact that wherever we find ourselves we are responding to a divine call. This response should be continual and continuous, and should also take place in season and out of season. We cannot afford to be Christians by daytime and pagans by nightfall. The call of the four foremost apostles also reminds us of the need for us to let go our “old trade”. The former things should be forgotten (Isaiah 43:18) and the new thing should be totally embraced and followed (Isaiah 43:19). If you hear the Lord calling you today what kind of response will you give?
Have a wonderfully blessed week ahead.