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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

All gospel “calls” by Jesus are simply calls to be a Christian: another Christ.


Isaiah 8:23-9:3
I Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Throughout my early life, I was taught today’s gospel pericope narrates Jesus’ call to his first four priests. Nothing could be further from the theology Matthew’s trying to convey. When Matthew composed his gospel – in the mid to late 70s – the priesthood as we know it didn’t exist. All gospel “calls” by Jesus are simply calls to be a Christian: another Christ. They certainly aren’t directed to a specific group of people who exercise one particular ministry in the community. On the contrary, they’re addressed to every one of the evangelists’ original readers. If we claim to be Christians, they’re directed to us. That’s why it’s essential to look carefully at each element of today’s call.
First, these initial disciples are called to follow a person, not an institution with particular sets of rules or regulations or even some philosophic concepts. And they have no idea where this person’s leading them. They’re just to “come after” him, wherever and whatever that entails. All they know is that people, not fish, will now be the most important element in their lives.

There’s no delay, no looking back. They immediately leave their boats, nets, even their father, and “follow him.” Jesus’ call marks a new beginning of their lives. Their response is the concrete “repentance” Jesus demands of all his followers: a total change of their value systems. Only those who achieve such a “metanoia” will eventually experience the “kingdom of heaven” - God working effectively - around and among them.

One way Paul of Tarsus, writing almost 20 years before Matthew, experienced God in his daily life was by the oneness of the Christian community. This seems to be why he’s so disturbed by what’s happening in the Corinthian church. Its members don’t appear to be disturbed at all by the “divisions” among them. They’ve actually created factions based on who was baptized by whom. The claim “I belong to Christ” seems to be Paul’s frustrated reminder that everyone was baptized into Christ, not into Paul or Cephas. And if they were baptized into Christ, they were baptized into his death; a death they’re expected to imitate by becoming one community, freed of all divisions. The Apostle suspects he’s failed at his primary calling - being a preacher of the gospel – since so many in Corinth have, by their separatist actions, “emptied” the cross of Christ of its meaning.

Though Isaiah seems to be referring to a pull-back of invading 8th century BCE Assyrian troops when he mentions a “great light” breaking into what’s been a “land of gloom,” we can all identify with his light/darkness imagery. We often find ourselves looking for any rays of light in this dark world we inhabit. Paul had found one of those light rays in the Corinthian Christian community he evangelized. Now he fears the gloom has returned.

Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to the division between clergy and laity which the eventual development of the priesthood created in the church that we rarely reflect on what our Christian communities would be like without that stratification. Growing up as a Catholic boy, I presumed the only “call” worthwhile receiving was the call to be a priest. If I didn’t get one of those, then, by default, I guess Christ was calling me to be a married layman.

Back in the 60s and 70s I’d ask students in my high school religion classes if they felt they were inferior members of the church because they weren’t priests. Almost all of them answered, “Yes!” I hope that’s changed somewhat today. If it hasn’t, either we’re not listening carefully to Matthew or Paul, or we’ve been hearing lousy homilies.


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