Gathering Disciples

01-22-2023Weekly Reflection© J. S. Paluch Company

To introduce the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s Gospel today, the evangelist quotes from Isaiah 9, which is presented to us more fully in our first reading. Isaiah acknowledges the darkness of oppression from the conquest of the Galilee region by Assyria, but reminds his people of the hope God offers them. Matthew, writing in the time of the Roman Empire centuries later, points to Jesus and his proclamation of the kingdom of heaven, to overturn all forms of oppression.

Power structures like Assyria or Rome rely on fear, control, and distrust to sustain themselves. But God's reign is to be saturated with God's love, freedom, and mutual trust. Jesus began by gathering a group of disciples. When Jesus similarly gathers his community of disciples in our church today, our love of each other, and our care for all others, can make this reign of God visible to all.

Called to Community

Today’s Gospel from Matthew sketches the initial movements of Jesus’ public ministry. The arrest of John the Baptist signals that Jesus’ time has come. His first actions include the call of his first disciples, and proclaiming the reign, or kingdom, of heaven. Jesus first gathers a community, which he can gradually form to become living evidence of this coming reign. His preaching, which begins just a few verses later in the Sermon on the Mount, is not just essential guidance for each individual life, but for life within a community of his followers.

It can be very challenging for most of us, who live in a highly individualized society, to hear this story of being summoned into community, committed to learning together and from each other. Our parishes and Christian communities need to be safe places so that we can open our hearts to each other, learning the Way of Jesus, and sharing this Way with others.

United in Christ

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses many pastoral issues, and begins with questions of division over leadership. We hear of rival camps of loyalty for various leaders and preachers: Paul himself, Apollo, or Cephas. Paul fears that the community has lost the center of the faith, that is, Christ himself. The community is to be united in mind and purpose under Christ.

Many today experience in a very similar division. Some Christians will in effect say: “I belong to...(fill in the name of your favorite preacher, theologian, or leader), and those who don’t are not to be trusted.” Diversity of thought and background are essential to the vitality describes of Christian a division community, that hides but the here message Paul describes a division that hides the message of Christ. It hides Christ’s call to charity and forbearance toward all. This division hides the truth that we are all at the foot of the cross, a cross that reveals our own brokenness and our need for mercy.