In my early years as a Catholic, we did not deal with the deeper theological issues very much. I recall a spirited discussion about when exactly you had to be in church for mass to count. It was decided that you had to be there at least at the beginning of the Gospel. Then of course we had the discussion about whether you could be in the vestibule and not in the pews to count. It was all very exciting to try to figure out minimum and basic requirements.
Minimalism is not religion. What might be relational is experiencing the beginning of the liturgy as the moment you begin to head for the church and the congregation. Entering the building would be a continuation of a spirit of worship which would then extend beyond the liturgy’s closing. We can pray with our desires to be “in that number” as a holy desire. We can reflect on the sacredness of time with each moment, a small sacrament leading us to our being included in the Big Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The chapter from which our First Reading is taken pictures Israel as a man walking around in darkness, starving, distressed and hopeless. Our verses proclaim a reversal. Darkness and gloom give way to light and joy. A bit of geography locates where God will bring forth new life where there had been abandonment. This is a familiar Advent and Christmas theme for us. Light and rejoicing, freedom and relief are promised to those who have suffered. A light is coming soon.
The Gospel continues this theme and quotes these very verses as part of its introduction to presenting Jesus as the One who will bring relief and life. The first half of today’s Gospel has some geographic references and the quotation from Isaiah setting up the frame for Jesus’ beginning His public ministry.
The second half of the Gospel has two separate calling narratives. Both stories involve fishermen who hear the invitation and seem to have no questions about their immediate response. Now maybe the fishing was not very good, nets needed mending, family relationships were not very good. They maybe have heard of Jesus doing wondrous deeds and they wanted a part of that kind of action. The Gospel closes with our hearing and seeing what these first-four saw and heard. Jesus went about curing and bringing life through His touch and His announcement that the Kingdom of God has now come to bring freedom and life.
Jesus seems to have been quite attractive to some in His day. These four hopped right up and out after Him. Others found Him too much or not enough. This is still true after all these years, some and others.
What makes Him attractive today? Some follow Him as a healer, some like His teaching. He can be seen as an option to meaninglessness of life. Some bank on Him as a guaranteed ticket into the happy beyond. For me and others I encounter, the attraction comes and goes, and the reasons for Jesus in our lives changes with how our lives are attractive to us, how we are going.
I wish often that the closeness to Jesus was constant. The early-four fishermen must have delighted in their first, apparently, intense encounter, but even that did not last. We can blame ourselves for drifting, or feeling “tepid” in our relationship with God and the person of Jesus. Here’s my way through all this.
There is no exactly precise measurement of intimacy. There is always a sense of a certain distance within closeness. In some way, relational proximity has a “not quite” about it. So we are on a journey of ten miles and we go along for a while and expect we should be at four miles, but upon arriving at the four-mile mark it can seem we have gone backward or made no progress at all. About popcorn, peanuts and intimacy, we always want more.
It seems we are allowed into a room, or the Nativity Stable, or some place and we feel just wonderful, just right, “let’s stay here.” The apostles felt this at the Transfiguration. “We could build tents for all of us and stay here.” Then, right when it is very good, a sense comes, or a voice saying, “You cannot stay here.” We are moved along, kicked out, back with all the others and we want more of just what we had. We get tastes, but not the whole enchilada.
This is not Divine Cruelty. This is how we are, we humans long for more and we cannot have it all now. We can respond by thinking that if we cannot have it all now, then forget it. It is not infidelity to God, but fidelity to how human we all are. Jesus invited His followers into experiences of just how human they really were. Jesus played to their fishermen’s ego by telling them that greater fish were there to be fried. They were going to find out that intimacy changes as it deepens; it can move from feeling to hard work and loss of feelings. So where ever we are, it is where we should be and at the same time not where we want to be.
We are invited “in” and then “out”. We move into the life of “catching” whatever that means for each of us. We are to remember the past closenesses as indicators of a brighter future, beyond, ahead, but not here totally. It is one of the great proofs that there is more to God than meets the eye. There is an ending to our longings. No tickets, no sense of ever reaching, but always a sense that there is a more and we are in line to get it, where ever we are!
“Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed.” Ps. 34,6
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