Each year, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I aim to study some of the spiritual writings from other Christian traditions, so that I can get an idea of what they believe and how they approach their lives of faith. Just for a change, I read some Hindu sacred writings and came across the story of some people who were seeking spiritual truth and they decided to ask a certain holy man to be their guru, their spiritual leader. But the holy man refused their request saying to them “You don’t understand, what you see in me is only a finger pointing at the moon. It is the moon you must seek”. We Christians can learn a lesson from this story because it warns us that we can so easily lose our way on the spiritual path when we lose sight of the moon. Each of today’s readings is a finger pointing, not at the moon, but at Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who alone is our light, our truth and our way.
In the first reading we hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” St. Matthew in the gospel says: “Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus who draws disciples after him into God’s kingdom.” And St. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth warns them: “Be careful, when you attach yourselves to different leaders you cause divisions in the body of Christ. Jesus Christ alone is our light.”
God’s word today challenges us to be converted to a way of living that points others to Christ. In effect, they invite us to go fishing for new disciples by the light of the moon, or in our case the light which is Christ.
The first word out of Our Lord’s mouth as he begins to preach and teach is: “Repent”. And what does repent mean: it means to reform, to change one’s life, to turn away from sin and turn towards God. Israel’s long and turbulent history was one of astounding and astonishing infidelity to God. Time after time after time the people turned away from God because they thought they knew better, and they eventually began to follow pagan gods. And so, because of this unfaithfulness to the God who gave them everything, they became enslaved over a period of time by different foreign powers. So it was the Jews forfeited God’s greatest gift to them which was freedom. And so, by the time the Romans invaded Palestine in 63BC, the Jews had convinced themselves that when the Messiah came he would be a great military leader who would rid Israel of the foreign invaders, a Messiah who would restore their national pride and avenge them against their enemies. In the fullness of time God did send Israel a Liberator, but he didn’t come with a sword, he came with a word, and that word was Repent. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” To those who were ready to hear it, Our Lord’s word was as clear as a full moon in the night sky.
Today the only foreign invader that can rob us of our spiritual freedom is sin. But every time we repent and decide to live for God, we oust the invader. And as we go about our daily business we need to ask ourselves: how can we expect to change the world unless we have first changed ourselves? Change begins with the individual; it begins with you and me.
In today’s gospel we hear Our Lord call Simon, Andrew, James and John, four unsuspecting fishermen who suddenly and immediately left their nets and their livelihood – and their families – in order to follow Christ and to become fishers of men.
What was it that enabled these four men to immediately, and without any reserve, disentangle themselves from their work, their family and friends, and their habitual way of seeing things? What prompted them to make that enormous leap of faith that most of us find so difficult? Well, we can’t be sure. But experience tells us that when someone shows explicit faith in us, we return the favour. Our Lord trusts that these four men will recognise him as the true light sent by God to guide them into the Kingdom. And having seen the light, they follow, no questions asked, no strings attached. As Thomas Merton observed after his own conversion to Catholicism: “When one is simply obeying God, a little effort goes a long way.”
Imagine how chaotic the crew of, say a fishing vessel would be if some followed the captain’s orders while others preferred to listen to the first mate and still others who chose to follow an old seadog as their leader.
We see this happening in the Church in different places. People attach themselves to this or that priest, to one spiritual leader over another, and because of this we run the risk of scaring the fish away. Christ is our Captain, and Pope Francis is his first mate. If we follow them we will be safe. Through our words and, perhaps more importantly, through our actions, we must make it quite clear that we are One in Christ, just as Christ and the Church are One, and that despite the differences the fish may come closer to see what they might be missing. At the end of the day we can only convert others by being converted ourselves.
Our Lord reveals himself to us today during this Mass and he says to us: “Repent, (reform your lives) for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He alone lights our way to liberation from sin, to discipleship and unity in him. When we make a little effort to follow him, we too can go a long, long way.