Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) January 26, 2020

Isaiah 8: 23-9:3; Psalm 27; I Corinthians 1: 10-13; Matthew 4: 12-23

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

About 10 years ago I was boarding a plane. The pilot was at the front door, hand resting on the flight attendant’s food counter. We paused as others ahead of us stored their luggage. Standing next to him I could see a black rubber band on his wrist. On it were the letters WWJD? – "What Would Jesus Do? I don’t see those bracelets very much anymore, but back then you would see WWJD? on bumper stickers, T-shirts, necklaces and backpacks.

If you wore a bracelet like that on your wrist it would be visible to you throughout the day. It would pose a frequent challenge: sometimes for a big decision, but mostly for our many decisions and encounters in daily life. WWJ D? The custom was started by a youth group at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Those young people wanted a tangible way to remind them of their faith in their everyday lives. Nowadays, in place of the wristband, they might choose a tattoo!

They were responding to Jesus’ call to be "light to the world." Maybe not a light to Zambia, or New Zealand, but a light in their world of family, school, part-time jobs and community. And then, who knows? – someday maybe even Zambia and New Zealand!

How good are you in world geography? There is a lot of geography in today’s Isaiah and gospel passages – Zebulun, Capernaum, Naphtal. 500 years before Christ the prophet Isaiah described these places as "degraded." They were up north and had taken a beating from the Assyrians. After things settled down Jewish people lived there, but so did Gentiles. It was a region of diluted Jewish practices, sometimes mixed with pagan beliefs. No wonder the prophet Isaiah called the land "degraded" and "distressed." The pious in Jerusalem in the south would have agreed.

The region of darkness and semi-paganism was the place Jesus could be found. That’s where he began his ministry: reaching out to the outsiders, a "light in the darkness," among the "degraded and distressed." That was where he first invited others to follow him. His first followers came from the outskirts, they were not the super pious, but everyday, hard-working folk.

We might ask the disciples: how could you so cavalierly leave family (imagine that conversation!) and business partners, based on a quiet invitation by an itinerant preacher. "Come after me." Did you notice that there was no miraculous catch of fish in Matthew’s story? Just an invitation. "How and why," we want to ask them, "did you respond in that way?" Had they heard him preach? Were their hearts touched by his words? Whatever the reason, their past was over and done. What about family ties? We don’t know. What about their boats and nets? We don’t know. "How impulsive!" we would say – and their family and friends would agree.

Those first disciples might say, "We actually didn’t decide anything. It was decided for us; it was decided in us." They might say, "We had nothing to do with it." What they surely would say, perhaps some time after the resurrection was, "It’s called grace and it started with God." Listen to what else they might say: "All our lives we had been in control of our lives, suddenly we weren’t. We did not change, we were changed." "By whom?" we ask. And they would respond, "By this man. There was no mirage, no lightening, no special miracle. Just an invitation. We put our trust in his word and we made a choice to change our lives."

Jesus’ "call" requires a choice. Not just getting baptized, but putting faith into practice. The call started in baptism, but comes anew again and again. To answer it means a newness of life, as it did for those first disciples – severing old ways, leaving those nets, as good as they were, behind. Still more is required. Jesus’ call requires severing old ways of thinking and acting; putting aside our self-focused values and taking on a gospel way of seeing ourselves and our world. Just as the first disciples responded to the call, so we may have to break with the standards of our families and the methods of the workplace, putting aside old securities, to live a life entirely conscious of following Jesus and the demands of discipleship – asking ourselves over and over again, with those young people in a church in Holland, Michigan, "What Would Jesus Do?"

As a follower of Jesus that question is asked of us daily, many times and in many places. We are challenged to speak out and act in his name, to be a "light bearer" in places of gloom, distress and darkness. The darkness of ignorance.... WWJD? The darkness of prejudice...WWJD? The darkness of pain...WWJD? The darkness of racism, sexism and homophobia...WWJD? The darkness of environmental devastation...WWJD? The invitation and call come every day. For the most part they won’t be momentous. But there will be a need before us and we are also invited, as those first ones were, to respond as Jesus’ disciples.

The small, daily responses prepare us to recognize God’s greater call when it comes. Who knows, it may take us to Zambia, or New Zealand? Or, an invitation to: go on an "alternate spring break"; assist at the parish clothing drive for the poor; take communion to the sick and those in a senior residence; speak out at a school board meeting... And all the numerous ways we "regular folk" are called to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

What ever the call is and whenever it comes, the bottom line is grace. That is what is happening at this celebration: Jesus joins us in his Word and Eucharist to enable us to do what he invites us to do – "WWJD?"

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