January 22, 2022
by Jay Carney
Creighton University's Theology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 67

Isaiah 8:23—9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17

Praying Ordinary Time

Rediscovering Corporal Works of Mercy

Pope Francis on instituting this Sunday as
"Sunday of the Word of God"

What should it mean to follow Jesus? This question looms over this Sunday’s readings.

The most straightforward answer comes in today’s gospel text from Matthew. Jesus calls, and Peter, Andrew, James, and John respond. Not grudgingly, not eventually, but “immediately”! They leave their fishing, they leave their father, and they’re on their way. Matthew’s gospel has been called a “training manual for disciples,” and shortly after today’s text Jesus will deliver the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the greatest manifesto of discipleship in all of the gospels. But it is not first and foremost Christ’s teachings, but rather Christ’s personal call, that animates these first disciples to leave the shores of Galilee and embark on The Way. 

We should not forget that whatever the immediacy of their response, the disciples do not leave their flaws, misunderstandings, or humanity behind (a theme made refreshingly clear in the recent series The Chosen). Nor does the second generation of believers. To dispel any illusions you may have about the assumed idealism of the early Christian community, read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. The scandals, in-fighting, and polarization in first-century Corinth could match anything we see in today’s news headlines! In this light, St. Paul’s exhortation today speaks through the ages, for division and rivalry are never markers of the Spirit. Likewise, we Catholics should not “belong to Pope Benedict” or “belong to Pope Francis,” for we ultimately belong to Christ. May our church communities strive to exemplify the unity in diversity that Paul labored so mightily to bring about in Corinth.

I write this reflection from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I have been conducting research on the small Christian communities that make up the foundation of Congo’s parishes. Congo is a very poor country, and its recent history has been marked by an appalling war in the east, venal politicians, and international economic exploitation. And yet what has struck me here during Christmas season is the “abundant joy” that Catholics demonstrate in the Zaire Rite liturgy, the passion lay leaders bring to guiding their base communities, and the hope they offer that, as Isaiah prophesies, God’s light will break through the darkness. When asked to define their base community, one leader told me simply, “A cunda [base community] is a gathering of people who follow Jesus Christ.” As we embark on the journey of ordinary time, let us take joy in following Jesus, together with our cunda.  

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