One of the more ancient questions about God and humankind is whether God initiates and sustains the relationship or do we. History records tribes and clans going up or across or over to a specific holy place to be in the presence of the Holy One.
In our human experiences, the lower in class or rank answers to the whatever person who is higher. If we want something we go to the possessor and do the asking or paying. All this leaves us with quite an encounter-mystery. Is God waiting for us to come begging? Does God, because God is almighty and beyond our control, expect us to go up or over to the “Holy Place” where God is expecting our supplications?
As healthy and appropriate as our human-relational processes are, God is “totally other” than our way of conduct. God is the Seeker, the One Who is asking, the One Who waits to be gracious to us.
This week as we prepare for the celebration of the liturgy, we can pray with the image of a “self-initiating” God Who labors with our freedom and attracts us by the smallest and greatest gestures. We can watch and pray with God’s seeking our hearts, giving us experiences of love and forgiveness, and all the ways God gives us life.
The verses of today’s First Reading will sound familiar. Some of them were in the First Reading for the Christmas Mass at Midnight. The reading is a “deliverance” text, or better, an historical review leading to a prophetic and hopeful oracle. There was distress and gloom, but gladness and light have replaced them. Two districts particularly are mentioned as places which had received special punishment. The historical truth symbolized by darkness gives way to the delights of a “great light” which leads to freedom from the oppressors and capturing foreigners.
All the trappings of war, violence, suppression have “taken wing” and the heaviness of the rods of captivity give way to the experiences of harvest festivals.
The Gospel makes an introductory mention of these two geographical places, Zebulun and Naphtali as places Jesus visited after His leaving home. Matthew often remarks upon how Jesus lived up to and lived out the “Messianic” prophecies. The center of this reading for us is more relational than geographical. Jesus moved from the past into the futures of His first four followers.
In the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, the retreatant spends a good deal of time praying with an image which flows from a few lines in today’s Gospel. “He left Nazareth….” We have no scriptural picture of Jesus leaving Mary and Joseph and heading into His salvific journey. He departed from the known into the believed. He moved beyond living according to the dictates of the Law to His living according to a specific relationship with the Father Who had baptized Him with His being the “Beloved”. The retreatant considers how Mary was left behind and her call to faith as Jesus heads down the road leading everywhere.
The second part of today’s Gospel has Jesus moving along the shore of Galilee and moving into the lives of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew.” “At once” they left what was familiar to them and followed Jesus. “At once!” Jesus went along the shore and James and John “immediately” left their boat and father to follow Jesus. “Immediately!”
Perhaps all four were bored with the dragging of nets and the familiar, while predictable, might have been unexciting. More likely the quickness of their responses is Matthew’s way of presenting the dramatic nature of the call of God. In the Spiritual Exercises the “First Way” of discernment is an interior sense that a call to do something seems sound, good, calming and, at the same time, just angular enough to come from God. Matthew has these four respond so unconsideredly, because the call of Jesus just seems right, good and besides, they are promised better fishing somewhere else.
Jesus and the band of quick-discerners went around the area catching new kinds of fish. They did the good which the people needed done. They healed and spoke of the Good News which was then beginning to happen. The past is moving into the “Kingdom” of the active God. Illnesses and sicknesses were a sign of evil and sin. Jesus begins the work of salvation by beginning His battle with the Prince of Darkness and the “demons” who come to know exactly Who Jesus is and what His kingdom is.
Logic, comfort, tradition, and the conventional, all can make decisions predictable and quite sensible. It seems both in Scripture and in the lives of believers, that these big four are contradicted by these little four who follow Jesus. This other way of not being governed by the “big four” is discernment in the Ignatian sense. One can line up the pros and cons and see where one’s heart and mind lie. This is more logical and the love-relationships of our lives are not usually logical.
In preparing young people here on campus for marriage, I eventually ask both persons to give me some factual reasons why they are marrying this person sitting next to them. They usually fumble around for words and images, but they begin to laugh as I do too. If they really love each other, well, it is relational; it just is sound, right and mysterious.
Jesus is the initiating relator Who invites us to pass logic and go “immediately” to “go”! Logic in relationships are imprisoning gravitational pulls which binds us to our minds. Discernment is not a decision-making faculty, but a way of living beyond gravity. It does not demand information about what’s coming next and then what. It is a growing sense that the inviting, self-initiating, loving God is laboring to bring us out of the familiar into the freedom of faith. Discernment asks only, “Who’s in charge?”
“Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed.” Ps. 34, 6
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