Ordinary order of things & life

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Third Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 22 January 2023
Isaiah 8:23-9:3 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 ><}}}*> Matthew 4:12-23
Photo by author, sunrise at Lake Tiberias, Israel, 2017.

As we move deeper into Ordinary Time this Third Sunday, let us first clarify the word “ordinary” because for most people especially us Filipinos, we take anything – even anyone – labelled as “ordinary” as being plain, common and not special; hence, always taken for granted, regarded as low and inferior like the ordinary ice cream sorbetes called “dirty ice cream” because it is peddled by an ordinary man, the Mamang Sorbetero.

From the Latin words ordo, ordin for order and ordinarius for orderly, the word “ordinary” implies orderliness. Nowhere does it suggest being bland, usual and nothing special. In fact, it is the standard or norm of everything, being the rule of how things should be.

The same holds true when we say Ordinary Time in our liturgy – that time outside the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter that make up the main bulk of the whole liturgical calendar with 34 weeks. It is in the Ordinary Time when the call and challenge of holiness and maturity in Christ is actually fought and won being the ordinary order of things and of life itself.

That is what our gospel this Sunday is telling us, of how upon the arrest of John the Baptist when Jesus began his public ministry, his ordinary life. The bad news of John’s beheading by Herod did not deter Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Later, he would show us in his life that persecution and suffering are the ordinary way of life of his followers.

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Napthali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.

Matthew 4:12-14

Photo by author, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum, Israel, 2017.

It is interesting to note that the verb for “arrest” used in the original Greek text of Matthew’s gospel is paradidomi which is to “hand over.” This is the theme word used many times in the gospel like John the Baptist handed over and executed by Herod; Jesus, too, was handed over and executed by both the Jews and Romans; and finally, most of the disciples of Jesus were also handed over and executed by both Gentiles and Jews.

The opening line of today’s gospel is telling us something very ordinarily happening – the “handing over” of followers of Jesus right even into our own time. It is the ordinary order of things for every disciple of Christ, of being arrested, of being handed over, of being persecuted as the Lord has assured us in his teachings. Wherever the gospel truth is proclaimed in words and in deeds, there will always be arrests and handing over.

Even in our Eucharistic celebration, there is this “handing over” when the priest says at the consecration “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you.” Being “given up” from the Latin tradetur also means “to be handed over” like the Greek paradidomi. During the Mass, the Body of Christ is handed over to us while we his Body are sent forth to continue that handing over of ourselves to others in loving service of the Gospel and Kingdom of God.

Notice the solemn tone of Matthew in telling us how Jesus began his ministry upon learning the arrest of John the Baptist. It is not that Jesus did not care at all to his cousin and precursor but more of a reminder to us that it is the ordinary course of things for any of his follower – of being arrested, being handed over! Keep that in mind.

Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, Israel, 2019.

Despite this prevalence of arrests and being handed over, we disciples of Christ must go on to continue following him even in the most unusual and unexpected places and situations with more arrests and handing over of us and those dearest to us daily.

Many times in life, the most ordinary leads us to the most extraordinary surprises like when Matthew told us how Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee upon learning the arrest of John. It was not a smart move for Jesus, so to speak; Nazareth was already backward and unknown town where Jesus grew up as Nathanael attested when he told Philip matter-of-factly “can anything good come from Nazareth?” and here was Jesus, moving to another unpopular town called Capernaum in the province of Galilee. It was so remote and not an ideal town and province to launch something so grand like the kingdom of God because it was literally a “hotbed” of troubles at that time. People there were rebellious while Jews were not noted for their pious observance of their religion as well as its rites and rituals.

But, it is another example of God turning the most ordinary into the most extraordinary when Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading of how the Messiah or the Christ as the light of the world would come from that dark province of Galilee.

Along the way of this life, it is the most ordinary circumstances when we have to change courses, change our ways like Jesus who moved from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee near those areas of Gentiles or pagans, of those forgotten by the society like the poor and marginalized that we have to hand over too from darkness into light, from sin into grace, from slavery into freedom, from nothingness to God.

Many times in life, God brings us to strange situations and places we find so ordinary, not ideal for our goals in life but eventually, we realize them as perfect sites for us. What is most important is that we have that deep faith in God as we continue to answer his calls and fulfill our mission. We have the most precious thing in life with us in Jesus, his Gospel of salvation!

Let us keep our focus on Jesus who is himself the kingdom of God. St. Paul tells us in the second reading how often we are misled by our many divisions caused by our failure to focus on Jesus. That is why Christ’s first prerequisite in following him is to repent, to change our ways not only outside but most especially inside of us, to be converted not once but daily. To repent is to cleanse our inner selves of the many impurities that prevent us from finding Jesus in the ordinary. See how Jesus came in the lives of his first disciples in their most ordinary moments working as fishermen.

Jesus ordinarily comes to us in the simplest and usual circumstances. It is not really a question of having some great experiences but always finding the meaning of every experience we have in life, no matter how simple or great it may be. Amazingly, we have seen many times in life that its deeper meanings are often found in the most ordinary experiences we have had.

Photo by author, Lake Galilee, 2019.

I like the way Jesus told the brothers Simon and Andrew “I will make you fishers of men” – a masterful use of the ordinary into something very extraordinary that prompted the brothers along with Zebedee’s sons James and John to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.

Why? Because they have found and experienced the beauty and challenge of the kingdom of God, of the Gospel right there in their midst, in their being fishermen! They must have long been searching for meaning in their lives. Maybe, like many of us, they have been growing tired with the “ordinary” only to find Jesus in the most ordinary and everything changed!

Most often, it is our very self who is most ordinary whom we take for granted without realizing Jesus already inside us, calling us to change our ways, to repent and be converted to find him and follow him. This is where a lot of arrests and handing overs happen — right inside our very selves when we have to let go of past, of aches and hurts, of failures and defeats and setbacks, and of our being unforgiving.

It is very ordinary for each one of us to be imperfect but it is in those imperfections Christ comes daily to call us to perfection. Let us pray:

God our loving Father,
you sent us your Son Jesus Christ
as an ordinary like us to be one 
with us in our suffering, pains and even death, 
so that in his resurrection we may share in his
extraordinary glory; please help us, dear Jesus,
to embrace wholeheartedly our humanity, our frailties;
cleanse us our impurities, 
of our sins,
of our narrow-mindedness
and biases that make us
resist your call to repentance;
let us submit ourselves to your
authority, Lord Jesus, beginning
with the most ordinary things in life
like leaving behind everything that we have
inn order to have you,
always you,
only you.
Amen.
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2017.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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