Mt 4.12-23                       Is 8.23-9.3            1Cor 1.10-17 

Has it ever struck you that today’s readings are forerunners for multiculturalism and diversity, the link between the prophet Isaiah and Matthew’s Gospel, where we return to her of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Capernaum, settling there and proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom, a consistent theme throughout Matthew’s Gospel.  And he’s not going to proceed on his own, but by calling followers, where here we have the first 4 apostles called, in pairs as brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John.  I’ve often joked about the gap in the labour market, and moreso, the annoyance of their fathers and fellow workers, when they suddenly drop their nets to follow Jesus, without looking back.

Yet, in the background, surely family life had to go on, and the responsibilities of providing for wives and children, in reality?  It can be assumed that Matthew’s account of the initial call is compressed in time, such that there must have been a period of getting to know Jesus, and so to reflect on his message after the initial call to friendship and so discipleship.  In fact, Mark’s account is even more shrunken or telescoped, with the 12 all called at once, as a package deal, including treacherous Judas, as we heard in a weekday Gospel this week.

A key point is that Jesus now moves forward to the periphery, away from Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish worship and practice, to Galilee, which is a safer place, given that John the Baptist is now imprisoned, Jesus now courageously taking up his mission, where he has more freedom of movement and expression.  There is a suggestion that he even settled in a house in Capernaum for some time. The location is also one where, if under threat, escape could be made by boat to a safer place.  Sound familiar?

Sociological and historical analysis identifies around 50% Gentiles and Jews in the area, with Aramaic and Greek as the local languages, with a pagan cult of Venus part of the scene, to add to the local interest!  Matthew writes for a diverse audience, and so is very conscious of the Gospel message being proclaimed to all people of good will, open to Jesus’ message of welcome, inclusion and forgiveness.  So the whole atmosphere was different, and more open to tolerance and mutual acceptance in living together in community.   You’d think, as supposedly civilized human beings, we’d know better by now.

Yet, during the week, I listened to a Conversations podcast with Richard Fidler and a woman who had escaped from Sarajevo, just after the beginning of the genocidal attacks on the local people who had lived in harmony for centuries, Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims.  At first, as a mother with 2 young children, she couldn’t believe what was happening, and yet it was real, frightening and certainly life-threatening for those who were of a different religious background or ethnicity to the militia which had moved in to ethnically ‘cleanse’ the place.  How humanity can descend to this level of atrocity and lack of respect for human life might be unbelievable to you and me, but it happened, and it’s not the first time, as we well know.  And now there is agony of the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the atrocities there.  When will we ever learn?

This week there was the death of David Crosby, of ‘The Byrds’ and later ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young”,  a bit of a wild man, but a talented musician with a message, as in “Turn, Turn, Turn”  and “Teach Your Children Well”, from the 1960’s, the former a musical rendition of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, about the meaning of life, and the God of life and love behind it all, the latter, a cautionary tale about the importance of good nurturing and listening, as parents.

I can see nothing wrong with contemporizing an ancient message, especially where it makes a connection with those willing to listen, whether into church or not!  My experience in priestly ministry is that it’s important to meet and engage with people where they are, and that provides the best chance with further engagement and belonging, rather than prescribing too many restrictions or requirements, particularly for those on the fringe. And having an open door of welcome to all who approach, whoever they are, whatever their orientation or background.

To my mind, given recent publicity, this is where the clash occurs between the models of Church propounded by Pope Francis, and what I already knew of Cardinal George Pell’s strident views, now publicly disclosed after his death. In a previously anonymous memo (by Demos), where he has been revealed as the primary author, in which the papacy of Francis is alleged to be a disaster and without a sufficiently doctrinal emphasis, among other things.

Environmental concerns are seen as reflecting pagan values, and any attempts at engagement with other faiths seen as denigrating Catholicism.  The whole aim of Vatican II, promulgated by Pope John XXIII, was to open the windows of the Church to the World, and to engage with it, rather than flee from it.  We live in a secular society, and should be thankful for that, especially considering the oppressive and intolerant nature of theocratic societies in the world today, and, at times in history, the Catholic Church of the past, with all of its entanglements between Church and State!

Francis, on the other hand, has written encyclicals on the environment, “Laudato si”, and the Joy of The Gospel, “Evangelium Gaudii” which, surely reflect how and where we need to live Jesus’ message of Good News today, as we hear how he commences his public ministry proclaiming God’s Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

It’s all very well for those who blindly profess fealty and obedience to leadership when its ideas agree with what they think.  The trouble is that George’s apparent attempts to undermine the current papacy of Francis, points to an unfortunate unwillingness to take a broader and realistic view of the Gospel, the Church and the world today, of which we are all part.

john hannon                                                                                   22nd   January  2023

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