Jesus Christ, Light of the World
Paris, January 24, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) The first call: “Repent.”
In today’s passage the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew tells us that Jesus left Nazareth, where in hiding he had lived a normal daily life, so that none of his fellow villagers had seen in him someone exceptional, and went to Capernaum to bring the light of God. He went to a place where there was a great mixture of Jews and other peoples, and for this reason was called by the Jews “Galilee of the Gentiles,” or “province of the pagans.”
The human logic would have expected that the messianic proclamation would have started from the heart of Judaism that is from Jerusalem, and instead it starts from a peripheral region, Galilee, generally despised and considered tainted by paganism. But just what it is considered a surprise, for St. Matthew is the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy and the telltale sign of Jesus, the universal Messiah that grinds all forms of particularism.
Jesus began from this “apparent” suburb to illuminate both the Holy City and the world, and his announcement is summarised by St. Matthew in a concise formula “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). These first words of Jesus are simple and few. St. Mark writes: ” This is the time of fulfilment, the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). The words recorded in the Gospel of today are even more spare (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”), and perhaps because of their own sobriety, not clear to us modern men and women. To understand these words and to understand well the difference between John’s message and the message of Jesus, I propose an explanation in our language in trying to bring out their meaning, eternally alive.
“The time is fulfilled.” The time awaited, prophesied and foretold has come to fullness. The time of living without knowing the beauty of the life with Christ has come to completion. The time of deceptions has come to an end. It is time to open our eyes to God and contemplate His face which then becomes, in a measure, ours.
“The Kingdom is at hand.” John the Baptist said that a king would soon come to establish a new kingdom: the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus gives the good news that the King has come and that the doors of the Kingdom are open. The Kingdom is not the old-fashioned imagination of a poor Jew of twenty centuries ago, an ancient thing, a dead memory, a shattered dream. The Kingdom of heaven is within us. It starts now: it is also our work, for our happiness in this life, on this earth. It also depends on our will, on our answering yes or no to the vocation of Christ, who calls us to be holy that is to look at heaven, to wish for heaven and hope to live forever in heaven. The Kingdom of God is peace and joy.
“Repent” says Jesus. “Repent,” even this “old” word has been distorted from its true meaning. The word of the Gospel in Greek “Metanoeite” cannot be translated into Latin as “poenitemini” or in English as “do penance.” Metanoia is properly a change of the way of thinking, a change of mind and the transformation of the soul. Metamorphosis is a change in the form; metanoia is a change of spirit, a change of mentality. Rightly the translation is “conversion” which is the renewal of the inner man. The idea of ”repentance” and “penance ” are applications and illustrations of the invitation of Jesus to turn to Him, to move toward the light.
The Messiah invites us to convert to the light of truth and to the bliss of love.
In loving Him we’ll know Him better, and knowing Him better we will love Him even more. We love only what we know well, love makes transparent those we love. The first conversion is to believe in the Word of Love. “Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willing- ness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call.“ (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, #13)
2) A call in the call
The passage of the Encyclical of Pope Francis led us to comment on the second part of today’s Gospel, which speaks of the calling of the first disciples. Jesus makes the proposal to follow Him on the shore of Lake Capernaum, where He was preaching and where men were busy with their work.
There is no exceptional setting for the calling of the first disciples: a port on the shore of a lake, a place of work for the fishermen.
Let’s try to bring out the essential features of this tale of life.
Jesus is the protagonist. He is the central character. His is the initiative (“He saw two brothers “- Peter and Andrew – “and said unto them ‘Follow me.’ He saw two other brothers “- James and John of Zebedee – “and called them “).
It is not the man who proclaims himself a disciple, but it is Jesus that converts the man and calls him to be his disciple choosing him with love. The disciple then is not called in the first place to learn a doctrine but to live with a Presence that is the emotional centre of his life of “called one”. In the first place there is the attachment to the person of Jesus
This membership requires a profound detachment. James and John, Peter and Andrew leave their nets and the boat and their father. In other words they live the work and the family. The work ensures security and social esteem, the father represents the roots. This is a radical departure.
This separation makes it possible to respond to the call of Jesus by following Him fully and freely. The two verbs “leave” and “follow” indicate a shift of the centre of the life of the person called. The call of Jesus is not in view of a social arrangement, does not located in one state, but sets off on a mission.
Finally, we see that the characteristics of the disciple are at least two: the communion with Christ (“follow me “) and a move towards humanity (“I will make you fishers of men”). The second one stems from the first. Jesus does not put his disciples in a separate, closed space. He sends them along the roads of the world. In this respect also Pope Francis speaking of Saint Peter Favre, a French Jesuit, invites us to imitate this “Companion of Jesus” letting “Christ occupy the centre of the heart.”
Even the Consecrated Virgins live this “centrality” of Christ, following him in full abandonment and loving trust and imitating the first 4 apostles chosen by Jesus. It is not a coincidence that they were fishermen. The fisherman, who lives most of his days in the pure solitude of the water, is the person who knows how to wait. It is the patient person who is in no hurry, drops his net and relies on God .The water throws tantrums, the lake has its own eccentricities and the days are never alike. Starting to go off in search of fish, the fisherman does not know if he will return with boat full or without even a fish to put on the fire for his meal. He puts himself in the hands of the Lord who sends the abundance and famine. He consoles himself for the bad day thinking about the good one to come.
With talent and feminine sensibility capable of supreme dedication, the Consecrated Virgins live the same call of the apostles-fishermen. They live the same path of holiness of the one who chooses to follow Christ with dilated heart and the same humility of the Holy Family of Nazareth (such as the Ambrosian liturgy recalls today) of which obviously Jesus was the center and where evidently the home of the one was the affection of the Other.
Mary and Joseph guarded and helped Jesus to grow not only because He would have said words of eternal life, but because in faith they knew that He was the Word of Life forever.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica, III, Qu.37
Whether Christ was becomingly presented in the temple?
Objection: 1. It would seem that Christ was unbecomingly presented in the Temple. For it is written (Ex 13,2): “Sanctify unto Me every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel.” But Christ came forth from the closed womb of the Virgin; and thus He did not open His Mother’s womb. Therefore Christ was not bound by this law to be presented in the Temple.
2. Further, that which is always in one’s presence cannot be presented to one. But Christ’s humanity was always in God’s presence in the highest degree, as being always united to Him in unity of person. Therefore there was no need for Him to be presented to the Lord.
3. Further, Christ is the principal victim, to whom all the victims of the old Law are referred, as the figure to the reality. But a victim should not be offered up for a victim. Therefore it was not fitting that another victim should be offered up for Christ.
4. Further, among the legal victims the principal was the lamb, which was a “continual sacrifice” [Vulg.: ‘holocaust’], as is stated Nb 28,6: for which reason Christ is also called “the Lamb—Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1,29). It was therefore more fitting that a lamb should be offered for Christ than “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.”
On the contrary On the contrary is the authority of Scripture which relates this as having taken place (Lc 2,22).
I answer that As stated above (Article ), Christ wished to be “made under the Law, that He might redeem them who were under the Law” (Ga 4,4-5), and that the “justification of the Law might be” spiritually “fulfilled” in His members. Now, the Law contained a twofold precept touching the children born. one was a general precept which affected all—namely, that “when the days of the mother’s purification were expired,” a sacrifice was to be offered either “for a son or for a daughter,” as laid down Lv 12,6. And this sacrifice was for the expiation of the sin in which the child was conceived and born; and also for a certain consecration of the child, because it was then presented in the Temple for the first time. Wherefore one offering was made as a holocaust and another for sin.The other was a special precept in the law concerning the first-born of “both man and beast”: for the Lord claimed for Himself all the first-born in Israel, because, in order to deliver the Israelites, He “slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, both men and cattle” (Ex 12,12-13 Ex 12,29), the first-born of Israel being saved; which law is set down Ex 13. Here also was Christ foreshadowed, who is “the First-born amongst many brethren” (Rm 8,29).Therefore, since Christ was born of a woman and was her first-born, and since He wished to be “made under the Law,” the Evangelist Luke shows that both these precepts were fulfilled in His regard. First, as to that which concerns the first-born, when he says (Lc 2,22-23): “They carried Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord: as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'” Secondly, as to the general precept which concerned all, when he says (Lc 2,24): “And to offer a sacrifice according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.”
Reply to Objection: 1. As Gregory of Nyssa says (De Occursu Dom.): “It seems that this precept of the Law was fulfilled in God incarnate alone in a special manner exclusively proper to Him. For He alone, whose conception was ineffable, and whose birth was incomprehensible, opened the virginal womb which had been closed to sexual union, in such a way that after birth the seal of chastity remained inviolate.” Consequently the words “opening the womb” imply that nothing hitherto had entered or gone forth therefrom. Again, for a special reason is it written “‘a male,’ because He contracted nothing of the woman’s sin”: and in a singular way “is He called ‘holy,’ because He felt no contagion of earthly corruption, whose birth was wondrously immaculate” (Ambrose, on Lc 2,23).
2. As the Son of God “became man, and was circumcised in the flesh, not for His own sake, but that He might make us to be God’s through grace, and that we might be circumcised in the spirit; so, again, for our sake He was presented to the Lord, that we may learn to offer ourselves to God” [*Athanasius, on Lc 2,23]. And this was done after His circumcision, in order to show that “no one who is not circumcised from vice is worthy of Divine regard” [*Bede, on Lc 2,23].
3. For this very reason He wished the legal victims to be offered for Him who was the true Victim, in order that the figure might be united to and confirmed by the reality, against those who denied that in the Gospel Christ preached the God of the Law. “For we must not think,” says Origen (Hom. xiv in ) “that the good God subjected His Son to the enemy’s law, which He Himself had not given.”
4. The law of Lv 12,6, “commanded those who could, to offer, for a son or a daughter, a lamb and also a turtle dove or a pigeon: but those who were unable to offer a lamb were commanded to offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons” [*Bede, Hom. xv in Purif.]. “And so the Lord, who, ‘being rich, became poor for our [Vulg.: ‘your’] sakes, that through His poverty we [you] might be rich,” as is written 2Co 8,9, “wished the poor man’s victim to be offered for Him” just as in His birth He was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger” [*Bede on Lc 1]. Nevertheless, these birds have a figurative sense. For the turtle dove, being a loquacious bird, represents the preaching and confession of faith; and because it is a chaste animal, it signifies chastity; and being a solitary animal, it signifies contemplation. The pigeon is a gentle and simple animal, and therefore signifies gentleness and simplicity. It is also a gregarious animal; wherefore it signifies the active life. Consequently this sacrifice signified the perfection of Christ and His members. Again, “both these animals, by the plaintiveness of their song, represented the mourning of the saints in this life: but the turtle dove, being solitary, signifies the tears of prayer; whereas the pigeon, being gregarious, signifies the public prayers of the Church” [*Bede, Hom. xv in Purif.]. Lastly, two of each of these animals are offered, to show that holiness should be not only in the soul, but also in the body.
Whether it was fitting that the Mother of God should go to the temple to be purified?
Objection: 1. It would seem that it was unfitting for the Mother of God to go to the Temple to be purified. For purification presupposes uncleanness. But there was no uncleanness in the Blessed Virgin, as stated above (Questions ,28). Therefore she should not have gone to the Temple to be purified.
2. Further, it is written (Lv 12,2-4): “If a woman, having received seed, shall bear a man-child, she shall be unclean seven days”; and consequently she is forbidden “to enter into the sanctuary until the days of her purification be fulfilled.” But the Blessed Virgin brought forth a male child without receiving the seed of man. Therefore she had no need to come to the Temple to be purified.
3. Further, purification from uncleanness is accomplished by grace alone. But the sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace; rather, indeed, did she have the very Author of grace with her. Therefore it was not fitting that the Blessed Virgin should come to the Temple to be purified.
On the contrary On the contrary is the authority of Scripture, where it is stated (Lc 2,22) that “the days of” Mary’s “purification were accomplished according to the law of Moses.”
I answer that As the fulness of grace flowed from Christ on to His Mother, so it was becoming that the mother should be like her Son in humility: for “God giveth grace to the humble,” as is written Jc 4,6. And therefore, just as Christ, though not subject to the Law, wished, nevertheless, to submit to circumcision and the other burdens of the Law, in order to give an example of humility and obedience; and in order to show His approval of the Law; and, again, in order to take away from the Jews an excuse for calumniating Him: for the same reasons He wished His Mother also to fulfil the prescriptions of the Law, to which, nevertheless, she was not subject.
Reply to Objection: 1. Although the Blessed Virgin had no uncleanness, yet she wished to fulfil the observance of purification, not because she needed it, but on account of the precept of the Law. Thus the Evangelist says pointedly that the days of her purification “according to the Law” were accomplished; for she needed no purification in herself.
2. Moses seems to have chosen his words in order to exclude uncleanness from the Mother of God, who was with child “without receiving seed.” It is therefore clear that she was not bound to fulfil that precept, but fulfilled the observance of purification of her own accord, as stated above.
3. The sacraments of the Law did not cleanse from the uncleanness of sin which is accomplished by grace, but they foreshadowed this purification: for they cleansed by a kind of carnal purification, from the uncleanness of a certain irregularity, as stated in the FS, Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article . But the Blessed Virgin contracted neither uncleanness, and consequently did not need to be purified.