Jews usually turned away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But
“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”
To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector was good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related his world?
The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?
Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.
But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.
It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.
Two worlds are described in the readings at Mass this week. The Gospel of Mark tells of the world that Jesus lived in over two thousand years ago, the world around Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, where he called his first disciples, encountered a demon in the synagogue, cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper. (Mark 1,14-2,12) It’s a world like ours that he came to redeem.
The world described in the Letter to the Hebrews is a world beyond this one, the world of the Risen Lord. Jesus enters that world as Lord of all creation; he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, our creed says.
The Letter to the Hebrews describes him further as a High Priest entering a heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us. He’s a merciful High Priest, the same Jesus who entered Capernaum and cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper. He’s knows our humanity with its weakness and its yearning; he carries the wounds of suffering and death.
It’s hard to keep these two worlds in mind, but our readings, like our creed, tell us to do it. They’re not sealed off, they’re joined to each other. They have a common goal: “Our Father, thy will done, thy kingdom come.” The Risen Jesus is present in both of these worlds. He’s Savior and Redeemer. Through him, God’s kingdom will come.
Unfortunately, some today only think of the world they see now. Others are unsure or confused about a world beyond this one. Some see the world beyond as an escape from this life, an isolated world in the clouds. For some the world beyond is a world we make, a world without Jesus Christ and the mystery of his resurrection.
Some conclude it’s just not important to think about it. But that’s wrong. What we think about life beyond this determines how we live now. It makes a difference.
Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel, one can visit the excavations of the ancient town of Capernaum. There the Franciscans have built a lovely hexagonal church over the restored ruins of a circular stone house, with the opening for its front door clearly visible. We pilgrims believe in our hearts of faith that this is the house mentioned in today’s Gospel.
” On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left and she waited on them.
” When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to Him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door.” (Mk 1; 29-33).
We believe that right at that door Jesus healed dozens, if not hundreds, of people (including the paralytic, who was lowered with ropes through the ceiling). He might also have preached the Good News of the Kingdom in front of that humble threshold.
I cannot help but imagine my Lord residing in my own private room within my heart. I know that there, through the Eucharist or prayer, planned or unexpectedly, He continuously “grasps my hand and helps me up”. He stands at the door of my heart and encourages me to serve, to invite all those around me, in my family and community, who might need some of the hope and healing that He compels me to share. This is what I live for.
And He asks for more: ” Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1; 38). With His holy companionship I am asked to reach out to those beyond the locust of my comfort zone: to the stranger, the different, the unpleasant one,the hopeless one, the one whose political ideas or interests are so different from mine.
May He give me the strength and faith, and courage, to try and “grasp” the hand that might reject mine. He has given me so much undeserved grace and love. He has given me the eyes to “see Him”. For what “purpose” has He come to me, if not so that I may be an instrument of His peace and love?
Jesus’ ministry in Galilee begins in Mark’s gospel with a remarkable day, a “paradigmatic day,” a day you can see everything you need to know about Jesus.
Passing along the Sea of Galilee Jesus calls Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They accompany him.
Then, they enter the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath Day and Jesus begins to teach. The people are amazed; no one has taught like him before.
Then, as it happens through his life, evil appears. A man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,“’Quiet! Come out of him!’
Leaving the synagogue, the people tell everybody they meet. News spreads quickly from Capernaum, a trading center, and the day is still not over.
From the synagogue Jesus enters Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum where Peter’s mother in law is ill. “He grasped her by the hand, and helped her up and the fever left her. Immediately she began to wait on them.” “Again, the news spreads. “After sunset, as evening drew on, they brought all who were ill and those possessed by demons. Before long, the whole town was gathered outside the door. He cured many who were variously afflicted.”
Truth and life came to that town, and from that town Jesus goes to other towns as well: “ I must proclaim the good news to them too,” he says.
He confronts evil wherever he goes. Jewish leaders from Jerusalem question his authority to cure on the Sabbath, his own disciples and his own family do not understand him. The towns that welcomed him, reject him. Still, he announces the good news.
To appreciate Mark’s remarkable day in perspective, try reading the gospels of these three days all a once. You can see Mark at his best, describing God’s beloved Son announcing the good news to the towns of Galilee and to the world as well.
To listen to the audio for today’s homily, please select the audio player below:
Our gospel reading this Sunday, like most from the last four Sundays, is from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It describes a day– one day in the life of Jesus–one commentator calls it a “paradigmatic day”– a day you can see everything you need to know about Jesus.
The evangelist prepares us for this day with an account of Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert by Satan. At the Jordan River the heavens open and a voice says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Immediately, Mark says, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan for forty day.
This is God’s beloved Son, but he knows what it means to face evil. He came among us and faced evil.
“After John had been arrested,” Mark continues, “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus goes into Galilee “after John has been arrested,” not the safest time to announce anything, but that doesn’t matter. God’s kingdom is stronger than the powers of this world. It wont be stopped.
Mark’s Gospel is fast paced. As Jesus passes the Sea of Galilee, he sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea. Jesus says to them. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther, he sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee, getting ready to go out in their boat. He calls them and they leave their boat to follow him.
They can’t resist him, Mark’s gospel says. There’s something exciting and commanding about him. They have to follow him.
They come to Capernaum, the town where they all live. It’s the Sabbath Day. They all go into the synagogue and Jesus begins to teach. He amazes the people with his teaching. No one has taught like him before.
But then, as happens all through his life, the voice of evil is heard. A man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
“Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
‘Quiet! Come out of him!’ The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
‘What is this? A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.’”
Of course, when those people leave the synagogue, they tell everybody they meet. Capernaum was a trading center. The news gets out quickly.
“His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”
Next Sunday’s gospel from Mark will continue the story of this momentous day. Jesus leaves the synagogue goes into Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum and heals Peter’s mother in law. This same day is filled with excitement. Mark ends his account by saying that as the day ends, the whole town in at the door, anxious to hear him, with their sick and those who are disturbed.
I wish I could convey some of the excitement that this gospel wants to convey. When Jesus comes into your town he brings life. Peter and those he calls can’t resist him. They have to follow him to know more. That’s always what Jesus does. He draws us to himself; he sets our hearts on fire.
Of course, he’s always accompanied by the evil of this world. The man with the unclean spirit whom always be there too. “Stay away from us. Get away from us. We want to be left alone. Even if you are the Son of God we want to be left alone.”
“If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts.” What a tragedy that is. not to hear his voice, to harden our hearts.
To listen to the audio for today’s homily, select the file below:
One disadvantage in reading the scriptures as we do in our liturgies on Sundays and weekdays is that we can miss the overall picture an evangelist is trying to paint. By breaking up the scriptures in parts, as we do, we can miss the sweep of the gospel as it unfolds and as one detail leads to another.
That’s especially so for Mark’s gospel, I think. Mark wants to tell an exciting, fast moving story, but read slowly, part by part, Sunday after Sunday, we may miss the breathlessness of the whole account. This is God speaking, revealing himself, God who brings new power and excitement to the world. This is the “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark says.
Some years ago I went to a play on Broadway called The Gospel of Mark. It featured a famous English actor, Alec McCowen, who came onstage alone, put a copy the New Testament on a table– “just in case” he said– and then proceeded to tell the whole story of Mark’s Gospel, just as it was written, from memory. It was a wonderful experience, listening to the whole gospel story unfold.
It might be good to do something like that with our gospel today, about the call of the disciples, from the first chapter of St. Mark. Let’s look at it in its setting, what comes before it and what comes after it.
Before Jesus calls his disciples, Mark says as the other gospels do that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John. “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased,” a voice from heaven says. The Spirit then drove Jesus “at once” into the desert to be tempted for forty days. Mark summarizes those events in few words. He moves quickly to bring Jesus into Galilee, into the world where the Good News is proclaimed.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
“John was arrested,” Mark says. A dangerous time. but the kingdom of God is stronger than dangerous times. With simple words Mark tells the story.
Jesus meets four fishermen along the Sea of Galilee, Peter and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John. He calls them, promising to make them “fishers of men.” Immediately– there’s no delay– they leave their nets and families to follow him. They’re taken by him and they want to share what he does. (Mark 1, 14-20)
And the story doesn’t stop there. Right away after they’re called, Jesus and the fishermen go into Capernaum, a fishing village along the Sea of Galilee. It’s the Sabbath Day, the day of God’s blessing. They enter the synagogue and Jesus begins to teach. His teaching immediately amazes those who hear him, the same amazement the fishermen felt when he called them.
Then, a possessed man in the synagogue shouts out at Jesus. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebukes him. “Quiet! Come out of him!”
“The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.” They’re all amazed. This is different, his teaching, his silencing of evil.
Mark says: “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” What would we expect? The people from synagogue that day go out and tell others what they saw and heard. There is someone here from Nazareth who teaches and works wonders we have never seen or heard before. (Mark 1,21-28)
They leave the synagogue; Peter and his brother Andrew take Jesus to their house, a compound not far from the synagogue. James and John, the other two disciples are with them. Peter’s mother in law is sick in bed and immediately they tell him about her. Going to her Jesus takes her by the hand and helps her up. The fever leaves her and she begins to wait on them. She is not only healed, she becomes a disciple. She’s serving people, helping them. She has become a disciple of Jesus, Mark is saying.
Of course, she not only waits on others, but Peter’s mother in law must have told her neighbors. The news spreads. By evening, after sunset “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. (Mark 1,21-34)
Now, that’s one exciting Sabbath day. The next day, Jesus goes with his disciples to other synagogues and towns where he teaches and performs miracles. The excitement continues, but Satan who tempted him in the desert and the man possessed by a demon in the synagogue take on new forms. Jesus faces opposition, growing opposition, from the leaders of his people. Scribes question him for daring to forgive sins. They call him the devil himself. Pharisees accuse him of not keeping Jewish laws; enemies begin to plot to put him to death. Eventually they’ll do just that, they’ll put him to death.
His own family came down from Nazareth to take him home because they think he’s out of his mind. And Capernaum and other cities that received him with excitement will turn away from him. People who clapped their hands and ran to the synagogues where he taught turned away. They had better things to do.
What has that to do with us? Well, we might have the same experience we see before us in Mark’s Gospel. The kingdom of God has been promised to us. What greater promise can we receive?There’s a power and attractiveness to the person of Jesus. Who can deny the beauty of his teaching, to love one another? Forgiving one another? Caring for the poor and those in need?
Who can deny also that there is evil in this world, a powerful evil that makes us question and fear? Even Jesus fears, according to Mark’s gospel. It’s good to read the scriptures, especially the gospels. They describe Good News, real news.
One of the disadvantages of reading the scriptures parceled out as they are in our daily Mass lectionary is that we can lose sight of the larger picture an evangelist like Mark is painting. He starts Jesus’ ministry with the cure of a possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum and then Jesus cures Peter’s mother in law and that brings crowds of local people to Peter’s house.
Mark’s narrative is quick and excited. They go to other towns in Galilee, and by the 3rd chapter of Mark, when Jesus returns home to Peter’s house, he’s followed by “a large number of people from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.”
They’re not the only ones following him now. The scribes have come from Jerusalem, who say he has a demon, and the Pharisees go to plot with the Herodians about putting him to death. And they hear about him in Nazareth; his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home. Mark wants us to see the mother of Jesus and his brothers pushing through this noisy, confused crowd as they arrive at the house to bring him home. “Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3,31-35) Just a small circle of believers were seated around him then.
Some commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, the early stories in Mark’s gospel announce the last story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Also, they see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome who suffered a brutal, surprising persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. It was an awful persecution, senseless, arbitrary. It left them confused and wondering what did this all mean? So, even in Mark’s account of Jesus’ early ministry there’s an atmosphere of confusion and lack of understanding that was found during his Passion.
Not only do the Jewish leaders and scholars misunderstand him, not only do the crowds not understand, but his own family can’t grasp what’s happening. It’s too much for them. The Passion of our Lord is not something we easily understand, Mark’s gospel reminds us, no matter how long we look at it. It’s not easy to enter the circle of believers. But we have to keep following him. Like Mary and others from his family we have to keep going back until, like them, we finally understand. Only after Jesus dies in Mark’s Passion Narrative do you hear a word of understanding; that’s when the Roman centurion cries our, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”