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Saturday, January 22, 2011


Aired on the Australian Catholic Radio Online
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          The imprisonment and death of John the Baptist brought sadness to Jesus and he withdrew from Nazareth to Galilee and settled in Capernaum.  Our gospel today has two sections namely the beginning of the preaching ministry of Jesus and the calling of the first four apostles.
          Most of us may wonder why would Jesus choose Galilee as his home base for the next three years of his life.  We remember that Jesus was rejected by his own people in Nazareth.  He said “Amen I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Lk. 4:24).  He was even accused by his relatives as a crazy man (Mk. 3:21).  Aside from this rejection, there was a historical meaning why he settled in Capernaum.
          Capernaum belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel which preferred loose confederacy of tribes that include Naphtali and Zebulon.  They never succeeded completely in expelling the Canaanites who were the former inhabitants so there was a mixed population.  Galilee was also surrounded by the Gentiles: the west by the Phoenicians, to the north and to the east by the Syrians and to the south by the Samaritans.  Galilee was also the passing route of the great roads of the world.  Because of these factors, the Galileans were more open to other people and new ideas as compared to the Jews of the Southern Kingdom.   They were fond of innovations and changes which made a very fertile ground for a new gospel preached to them.  This is why Jesus opted to start his public ministry in Galilee.
          Jesus was like a shining light to the people sitting in darkness. That’s who Jesus is: the Light of the world.  It is very interesting to note the first written words spoken Jesus to begin his public ministry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” The word repent is the translation of the Greek word “metanoite” from which we derive the word ‘metanoia’ which means “conversion”.  Unless there is a complete turn about from the old life, there can be no way for the message of the Gospel to sink in.  After Jesus preached the need for metanoia or conversion, he proclaimed that the Kingdom is at hand.  The Kingdom of God was the central theme of his public ministry and preaching.  In effect, he was not just preaching about the coming of that kingdom but he was preaching that he was the personification of that kingdom.  In Greek we call him as the auto-basilea or the Kingdom of God himself personified.
          The second section of our gospel today is about the calling of the first four apostles. The historical milieu of Galilee helps us to understand why Jesus chose his apostles who were Galileans.  It is interesting to note that the first four apostles were two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew then James and John.  Being Galileans, they were open to a new leader, ideas, adventures and possibilities.  But why fishermen?  Because they would soon be fishers of men.  Other than Peter who was married, the biblical texts do not give us written accounts if they were married or not but when they were called by Jesus they left everything behind.  They left their boats which means their profession, their families and everything.  No questions asked.  No ifs and buts.  That’s the power of the calling of Jesus.  It is irresistible!  You cannot but follow him.
          Some of us may ask what were the qualifications to be an apostle.  Why did Jesus choose these simple fishermen, mostly uneducated to become the pillars of the Kingdom he was preaching?  From a psychological point of view, no one among them would qualify to lead an organization that would soon change the course of history.  Some psychologists say that the first one who would fail a psychological examination was Peter and the only most likely to pass was Judas Iscariot.  If I were to start a corporation or an empire, I will choose the best men and not the ones chosen by Jesus who were nothing but  seemingly failures.  It goes only to show that while we see the appearance, God looks unto the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).  There was something than meets the eye.  That lies the mystery of choosing the Twelve.
          What is this Gospel for us today?  First, we need to be like Galilee.  We need to be open like a fertile soil where the Gospel will be planted in our hearts.  That can never be possible if there is no continuous conversion.  Secondly, we are called as disciples to witness our faith.  That’s what an apostle is: a disciple sent to the share the Word to the world.

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