This past week, I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC for the March for Life with our parish youth group. We had a great time, and a great experience, but I will tell you – it was ridiculously cold. Only by tons of layers, hand warmers, and the grace of God did I make it through the March! The funny thing is, when I returned home, it was even colder in Saint Louis! I have decided that I’m finished with the cold for a while. A nice jaunt over to the beach sounds great right about now!
So I find myself relieved to read in today’s Scripture that Jesus has the same idea! Well, not exactly, but he decides to move from Nazareth to Capernaum. Now as we know, Nazareth was kind of a countryside town, but Capernaum was right there in the action on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. It is in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali that we heard referred to in the first reading.
It’s hard to imagine why a nice seaside resort would be considered a land of people who dwell in darkness, especially with the current weather here in Saint Louis, but there a nice little backstory to this – a little history to this place and why Jesus is there. Back in ancient Israel, the tribes and successors of Jacob’s sons Zebulun and Naphtali (those were their names!) occupied these northernmost territories in the nation of Israel. And so in the 8th century BC, when Israel’s neighbors to the north, the Assyrians, decided that they’d like a little sunshine too, and decided to come on down, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to take the hit of their invasion. The people in these lands were the very first in the history of Israel – and Israel has a long, extensive history of this – to be deported and exiled. Even worse, it was Assyrian policy at the time to take the most educated and influential people in the conquered lands and ship them back as servants, leaving the rest of the peasants behind. So if you can imagine, all the leaders of culture, art, government, education, and science were suddenly gone! Where once these influential people had meaning and purpose to serve their country and build up their own kingdom, now they were simply tools made to serve their captors. It left them, as Isaiah says, a “people in darkness” dwelling in a “land of gloom.”
And it’s there, in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the land of darkness and gloom, that Jesus chooses his first disciples. The fact that he chooses to do so here of all places is very important! He takes those people who had once been workers in a foreign land, whose work had become meaningless because it was for an oppressive foreign empire, and renews them by making them workers for a new Kingdom – a kingdom of justice and peace. With the call of the first disciples, he brings light to their darkness. To a land once emptied of life and culture, he brings meaning.
It’s interesting to note as well how he issues this invitation. When Jesus meets them, they are on the lake fishing, doing their usual work, doing their business. They are trying to put food on the table and get things done. And as we read, Jesus comes to meet them there, in their environment. He enters into their everyday lives. Think about that: he could have chosen to call them at any time! He could have just dropped by their houses after work, spoken with them after their usual Saturday services in the synagogue, talked to them on their day off, or set up an appointment to meet with them in his office or something. All of these choices would have been so much easier – less interruption, less inconvenience. But Christ chooses to be part of their lives – he wants to call them in the middle of their ordinary, busy circumstance to bring them light and meaning.
That is how the Lord works with us as well. He is always calling us, always prodding us, always seeking to work his way into our lives. Blessed John Henry Newmann once said, “We are not called once only, but many times; all through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, he graciously calls us still. If we fall from our Baptism, he calls us to repent; and if we are striving to fulfill our calling, he calls us on from grace to grace and from holiness to holiness, while life is given to us.” The call to holiness never stops, never ceases, never ends.
Jesus is always coming to meet us, always coming to us along the shore of our lives, as he did with his first disciples. Whether it is at work or school or time off, whether it is convenient or inconvenient, he is always calling us. It isn’t just on Sundays or while we’re at Mass, but every day! He invites us to follow him more closely today than yesterday, to be more passionate for him tomorrow than we are today!
Life is busy and inconvenient and crazy, and it can seem meaningless and dark and gloomy too. But I would challenge each of us to be even more attentive to God’s call during those times. I would hope that we can think and pray about this during Mass today, but even more importantly, think about it when you get home! Think about it Monday morning when the alarm goes off, and you need to wake up and start the day, but feel like you just cannot. Think about it Wednesday afternoon when you suddenly realize that you’re only halfway done with the busy week and still have a lot left to go. Think about it Thursday when you’re paying bills or answering phone calls. Because it’s usually then that the Lord is calling us to be even closer disciples, and in doing so, he comes to return meaning and worth to our lives.