Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Sea of Galilee, Four Fishermen, and God the Son

Today's Gospel reading is Matthew 4:18-22. It's one that I've heard at intervals, as far back as I can remember: where Jesus says "Come after me..." to Simon Peter and Andrew; and then called the sons of Zebedee, James and John.

I hadn't realized until recently, just how odd the response of those four men was. They were on the job, making a living, when someone comes along and says 'follow me.' I've had jobs that I wasn't all that fond of: but even then, I don't think I'd have dropped what I was doing and walked away from my livelihood.

Here's that reading:
"8 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.

He said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.'

9 At once they left their nets and followed him.

He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them,

and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
(Matthew 4:18-22)
This doesn't look like one of those obscure passages. It's a fairly straightforward, simple narrative: Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee; told two fishermen to follow him; they did; then Jesus walked along and did the same thing again.

I could assume that the 'real' meaning is hidden in numeric values assigned to letters in the Hebrew original.1 That's not gonna happen.

I've said this before: Since I'm a Catholic, I don't have to sort out conflicting claims, or try multiplying the number of apostles by the number of times fish are mentioned in Revelation, to figure out what that part of Matthew 'really means.'

Granted, those two footnotes aren't likely to cover all the subtleties, but I'm confident that they cover important points:
"8 [18-22] The call of the first disciples promises them a share in Jesus' work and entails abandonment of family and former way of life. Three of the four, Simon, James, and John, are distinguished among the disciples by a closer relation with Jesus (⇒ Matthew 17:1; ⇒ 26:37)."

"9 [20] Here and in ⇒ Matthew 4:22, as in Mark (⇒ Mark 1:16-20) and unlike the Lucan account (⇒ Luke 5:1-11), the disciples' response is motivated only by Jesus' invitation, an element that emphasizes his mysterious power."
(Footnotes 8, 9, Matthew 4)
On a strictly emotional level, I like the reference to "mysterious power" mentioned in footnote 9.

Jesus: Divine and Human

Focusing strictly on how spiritual and unworldly and inhuman Jesus is - wait, I've mentioned Gnosticism, before. Recently. More to the point, the Church has a few things to say about those heresies: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 285, for example.

Bottom line, God created the physical world. God doesn't make junk. The physical world is basically good. But it's not perfect. Yet. (Catechism, 302)

More recently, I think American culture has swung too far in the other direction: accepting, perhaps grudgingly, that Jesus really existed. But often insisting that He must have been completely, totally, human. Not divine at all.

That's nothing particularly new, either. Nestorians had a problem with the idea that Jesus is I AM (John 8:58) - although they apparently hadn't decided that God shouldn't exist. That seems to be a fairly new twist. More about Jesus, and folks having a hard time accepting God's 'big picture' revelations, in the Catechism, 464-469, 470, 471-474, and a whole lot more.

I can see how folks have had trouble, as the centuries roll by, accepting one basic idea:
"...Jesus Christ is true God and true man...."
(Catechism, 464)
I've read that part of the Catechism, I've thought about what sort of Person my Lord is: and I don't completely understand how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work.

I've also read the book of Job, so I don't expect to know as much as God. God's God, I'm not, and I'm okay with that.

Getting back to today's Gospel reading, and that "mysterious power," what those four men did isn't really that odd. Under the circumstances. They'd heard God's voice - quite literally - giving them a clear, simple, instruction. Then they apparently decided that God the Almighty outranked their father, their job, or any other concern they had.

Two millennia later, even though I grew up with the American work ethic: I think they made the right decision. And, in my own way, I'm trying to do the same thing: follow Jesus.

Sort-of-related posts:
1 Hebrew? Greek? Latin? What about Aramaic? Like I've said before, the Catholic Church's 'official language' is Latin. But we're multi-lingual. There's a Latin translation of the Bible: also a Greek translation, the Septuagint, the original Hebrew for the Old Testament, and translations into regional and trade languages like English.

With a history spanning several thousand years, working with Sacred Scripture can get interesting:
"...We are told by the Gospel of Matthew that when Jesus, in response to Peter's confession of faith, announced the establishment of "his Church"--"Upon this rock I will build my Church" (Mt 16:18)--he employed a term whose common usage at the time and in various passages of the Old Testament allows us to discover its semantic value. It must be said that the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel uses here the express mou ten ekklesían. This word ekklesía was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible dating from the second century B.C.) to translate the Hebrew qahà l and the corresponding Aramaic qahalà , which Jesus probably used in his response to Simon Peter. This fact is the point of departure for our lexical analysis of Jesus' announcement...."
("Christ's Call Establishes the Church," Pope John Paul II (July 20, 1991))
The English-language document I got that from uses the Latin alphabet to express Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words. Which is just as well. I've got Hebrew fonts on my system, but not everybody does. Don't be too impressed at how 'spiritual' I am, to have those fonts. I've also got fonts for Chinese, Arabic, and a few other languages that I wanted to see without transliteration.

Then there are my Lord's words from the Cross, which include:
"And at three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' 14 which is translated, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' "
(Mark 15:34)
And that's a lot more topics.

More, partly about language:


Ria said...

Inspiring! I like reading like this.

Brigid said...

I feel like there's something missing: "Then are my Lord's words from the Cross"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Ria /,

Thanks for the good words. I'm glad to hear that.

Brian Gill said...


"There" was something missing. Thanks!

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