Monday, January 16, 2017

Foolishness – 22 January 2017 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany

By God's grace, Jesus has called us to follow him and proclaim the foolish choice of fishermen to become apostles, the foolish and reckless love of God that led Jesus to battle death, the foolish message of a risen Savior who triumphed over the grave, and the grace of God that fools our senses coming to us in bread, wine, water and oil. Like the Galilean fishermen, we may be foolish choices for God's co-workers, but we have great bait. Now all we need is the patience of seasoned fishermen and fisherwomen. – John Paul Salay

Matthew 4:12-23

In today's Gospel reading, we see Jesus making an apparently foolish choice of followers. Jesus “saw two brothers. . . fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Jesus could have gone to the temple and invited the priests to follow him, for they were “professionals”. . .  Jesus could have . . . invited the biblical scholars. . . for they knew the Bible and could easily explain it to others. Why then did Jesus go to a lake and invite fishermen to follow him?

People who fish know that bait, time and place, and patience are essential for catching fish. Jesus knew that these three things are also essential to catch people for God's reign. You need good bait to catch fish, something that attracts fish, and that often means different bait for different types of fish. You need good bait to catch people. The bait is a simple message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Simply stated, “You need a change of heart and mind because God's reign is here!” . . . St. Gregory the Great, in his Pastoral Rule, encouraged preachers to tailor their message to their hearers. Although the message remains the same, the way in which we present the call to repentance and the coming of God's reign will vary. – John Paul Salay

Isaiah 9:1-4

The prophet speaks of hope despite the devastation caused by the invasion of the northern kingdom Israel by the Assyrians. . . in 733–732 B.C. The pain of the people under the cruelty exercised by the conquerors is graphically stated: the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Despite current conditions, the prophet announces that a light has shone (or will shine; the verb tense is unclear), the light of God's power when he reverses the fortunes of his people. – Joseph McHugh

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Oh, surprise, the church is quarrelling! And the apostle, who preached to bring the followers of Jesus together in Corinth, is not pleased.  

In a city. . . divided along philosophical lines (Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans), Paul understood the church to be a community. Paul was sent “to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” The divisions in the church can do exactly that: empty the cross of its meaning.

Paradoxically, power is found where least expected—in the powerlessness of the crucified one. Where human thinking sees only foolishness, the believer finds the true wisdom of God. – Joseph McHugh

Pay special attention to vs. 17 and ponder what Paul means in terms of the preachers’ task. The preaching he did was never intended to be “eloquent wisdom,” he says. He did not want “eloquence” to overshadow the cross? How could it? Is he speaking of fancy flourishes, exacting use of Greek rhetorical devices, manipulative emotive language, focus on himself as a star preacher, something else?

Is he saying attention to himself can actually diminish the cross’s power? The church’s purpose can, indeed, become distorted by the glamor of a preacher. That charisma, charm, suave demeanor can take our eyes away from the cross and the power of a love that chose to die in order to bring forth life. The foolishness of the cross is revealed to be the wisdom preachers are called to nourish in the hearts and minds of the assembly. 

Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer who writes on scripture and other religious topics.

John Paul Salay is Loyola University’s Minister of Liturgy and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Homily Service 41, no. 1 (2007): 121-130.

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