Epiphany III

– It’s interesting b/c this week I was mindlessly flipping through a women’s magazine, shopping, fashion, advice column, when I came across something that sort of turned upside down my long-time unquestioned perspective on today’s Gospel.

The article was about high achieving women who are bored at work. How those women pushed themselves very hard, studied for many years, confronted a competitive and sexist environment, all of it to finally discover one day that what they got wasn’t really was they were looking for in the first place, that basically they weren’t happy at work. And they weren’t happy not for lack of success or money, but mainly for lack of meaning. They didn’t feel their work made a lot of sense. Most of them started out with studying something they really cared about, but little by little, they felt more remote from doing it, most of their job ending up in supervising, controlling, organizing, but they weren’t in touch with the real thing their hearts longed for.

And it looks like the women in this article aren’t the only ones to feel like that. In our developed countries, statistics have it that at least 50% of people with an office job are unhappy at work b/c they feel their jobs don’t make enough sense.

And so – it got me thinking b/c of course, if you pay attention, this is exactly where and when Jesus decides to show up: On people’s work places. He does it, of course, in our story today – a well-known one, when he called twice in a row two brothers to leave their nets to follow him (an interesting insistence), and we know also that Jesus recruited Matthew himself, who wrote the story of today, when he was sitting at his tax collectors booth.

So, for Jesus, it was like a pattern, right, to ask people to leave what they were doing? We got used to these “call stories” though – I know I did. But the article of the office women unhappy at work changed my perspective b/c those women testified that one day they had to do something to change their lives b/c they could not bear it any more. They decided to do something concrete, something that made them happy but also something that had meaning, that was in accord with their values, something that brought them closer to nature, to people. Like most Christians, I have always assumed that Peter, Andrew, James and John, and others disciples like Matthew, made a huge sacrifice the day they decided to follow Jesus. I assumed that they did something very hard, to leave behind their daily activities, the life they knew, the relative security and the comfort they enjoyed. But now I think: Well, very likely there was some sacrifice, and some risk taking in leaving everything, but maybe, just maybe – Jesus was all they were waiting for. An opportunity to change their routine, to do something new, meet new people, become somebody else, or more likely, become who they were really called to be (as Simon became Peter) – so at last they could be in touch with their spiritual longing – finding sense and purpose in their lives beyond day to day survival.

From fishing fish for daily survival, the disciples go out with Jesus to fish people: teach, heal and bring hope to people for the Eternal and divine life.

Now this probably tells us something too, right?

I don’t assume we are all called to leave our jobs – a lot of us are retired anyway! – or our families, our homes…To me the text says something more simple, and yet deeper: It says that we all long for meaning, that our daily life cannot sustain us if it isn’t filled with deep spirituality, a spirituality that is not only in our heads but mainly in our hearts and hands, in service and connection with others. It also means that our God is not a boring God, a never changing and remote God who only expects us to do our daily duty and be contented with it, but quite the opposite: God wants to take us on an adventure.

– First point: Our daily life cannot sustain us if it isn’t filled with deep spirituality. The disciples are longing for more than their fishing for fish – and we hear in Matthew 4, a few verses before our passage, Jesus telling the devil: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out from the mouth of God” – as if the supreme temptation was not, as we often assume, greed, but believing that all we need in life is a plate on our table and a bed to sleep in.

Have you ever read the beautiful book “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl? Frankl tells his story about surviving four concentration camps during World War II, and as a psychiatrist, he says that what he observed is that what was killing people, apart from execution, was not so much lack of food, lack of medication, exposure or exhausting jobs, what was first of all killing people in the camps was lack of meaning, lack of connections and lack of hope. Frankl observed that if you could find a way to sustain that, your chances were greatly improved. Because life isn’t only a biological process, life is first of all a spiritual adventure.

– And this is really what Jesus invites his disciples to do today – to follow him on a journey talking about God, meeting people, helping them, bearing their own crosses and finding new life. We often assume that their dropping immediately their nets meant that suddenly they had it all figured out – I don’t think so. We see later that they had much to learn from Jesus, even after the Resurrection, until they receive the Holy Spirit. I think they dropped their nets because they had this longing in them, even if they didn’t really know what it was about.

Today, of course, Jesus invites us to follow him in the same way, so we can live to the full, beyond who we think we are to be whom we are called to be – from being Simon to becoming Peter. Leading spiritual lives you see, it is not only about saying prayers or reading the Bible, it is about coming closer to God by finding deeper understanding about what’s going on in our lives, how God speaks to each one of us individually – the reason why it was so important to Matthew to remind us again and again that Jesus was a teacher. But spirituality is also about making connections, getting closer to people, especially those who are different than us, as Jesus went to be with outcasts and sinners, and with them hearing the good news and finding healing, even through pain and death.

And so, and it is my second point, this really is a journey. We’ve just heard it in the psalm, when the psalmist says to God: “You speak in my heart and say ‘Seek my face’ – Your face, Lord, will I seek”.

Not so much a journey towards God than a journey with God. We often have in mind this representation of a God to be found somewhere, a God that never changes or never does anything new, but we see in the Gospel that really Jesus came to find people where they are, on their work places, to show us that God is working with us, in us and through us. The disciples started following Jesus b/c they had much to learn, to see and to experience – and this is true for us wherever we are in life. God has always something to reveal to us and create with us, even if we find ourselves in very difficult situations. Frankl testifies that he never learned so much about life than when basically all his possessions were down to his bare existence, an existence that was threatened ten times a day.

This means also that we have power – power to respond to life in a meaningful way, as the disciples responded to Jesus on that day. Meaning in our lives is not so much to be found at is to be created by caring for others, keeping faith and having hope. There is no script – we find it as we go. Isaiah promised that the Messiah would carry the light for the people in deep darkness and Matthew reminds us of this passage of the Scriptures in the beginning of the story: The disciples saw light through Jesus’s life, feeling God’s presence in him, they responded to the invitation of letting themselves be transformed and transform the world.

I think this is what this call to repentance is all about: Making up our minds to see life in a new light. Not as something we have to either enjoy, when we’re lucky, or endure, when we’re not lucky, but as a spiritual formative experience in the way we live, suffer and die, realizing life is an adventure with God and for God.

Finally, it also means that we need to help people along the way with their spiritual needs. That we have to be Jesus on the shore of their daily life as well and “fish” for them, even on our work places. I have a friend who prays daily to see the spiritual needs of people and she always ends up having the deepest conversations with them at random places like the dog park, the garage or the supermarket. You don’t have to be very educated to do that – spirituality is about what’s in people lives, in their hearts – And so you only have to listen to them, take them seriously, discern with them how God is at work in their lives. We often think about being Jesus to others by being nice and helpful, but what about trying out to be Jesus to others by drawing their attention to the way God is speaking to them and inviting them to change their lives? Christians often complain that today people don’t believe in God the way they used to, and yet if we pay attention we will see that there is still a deep thirst for meaning, relationships, and renewal in everyone, as the article I read testified about. When Jesus asks us to “fish for people” it is not about trapping them in the net of our convictions, but maybe “fishing” is about helping them to make the connection with God, finding the thread between their deepest longings and Christ who is still today calling them, as he calls each one of us. Amen.

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