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Select Homily
January, 21 2018

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer and Dr. Susan McGurgan


What’s the difference between buying a house

---where the rooms are empty and the carpet is new---

and living in one where the closets are full and the laundry piled up?


Well, part of the difference is time:

an empty house requires a bit of time for its rooms to fill up.


But another part of the difference is emotion…

We find excitement in things that are new…


(Like the anticipation a young couple feels

when they buy a “starter house,”

and begin pouring over home decorating magazines.)


No doubt about it,

we like the excitement of new things and new experiences.


On the other hand, we find security in those aspects of life

that are familiar.


(Like the sound of the garage door closing behind us

at the end of the day

or the feel of the family room in the early evening

or the soft wheezing of a baby in a crib in the middle of the night).


These illustrations demonstrate something of the difference

between a new house and a well-lived-in house.


Can the same be said about the difference between

being called by Christ “to follow a dream”

and serving Christ “in the daily grind?”

Should there be a distinction between


In American culture, when it comes to religion,

there is a lot of emphasis on the flash and excitement

of emotion and conversion.


More and more, people are moved to share

dramatic moments in their lives,

experiences when a powerful feeling comes upon them

and Christ calls them follow him anew…

and so they turn away from destructive patterns of behavior

…addictions, abusive relationships, meaningless work…

and embrace a new way of life in Christ.


We Americans love hearing about these sorts of conversions;

we like sharing the joy of people who suddenly

have “their eyes opened.

Dramatic conversions wherein

they discover that Christ died for them

and now intercedes for them before the throne of God the Father

and the Holy Spirit enters into their heart and soul

and, well, it’s wonderful, completely wonderful.


You might say that it’s like walking into a house

where the kitchen gleams

and the windows shine with sunlight.


This is what it’s like to experience grace as though for the first time:

God gives us a slap on the shoulder

and says, “Let’s go for a swim and get rid of that sin!”


You sense a new beginning, a new stage in your life with Christ.


This experience is called conversion

and it happens to every Christian.

And it happens again and again.


Protestants identify this experience with “being saved.”

Catholics tend to see it as being “in the state of grace.”


Yet, it doesn’t matter how we talk about it…

What matters is that we know when it happens and can tell about it.


Like the awe that overcomes a family

as they head into the mountains

for a camping trip.


Or the reverence that accompanies parents

as they carry a newborn child into their home for the first time.


I’m talking here about the excitement of grace,

the thrill that enters the soul

when a new experience of grace comes knocking

and your spirit is renewed and reborn…

and we all love this part of “being justified,”

we all like being “in the state of grace.”


No doubt about it,

we love this part of our religion.


* * *

Now, with this in mind, let’s turn to today’s gospel passage.

What sort of grace is at work

when Jesus calls some brothers

who are invested in family fishing partnerships

to come and follow him?


At first, it might have seem like a once-in-a-lifetime chance

to escape the routine of mending nets and pulling up fish.

It might well have felt like the slick new grace

that come with a fresh-coat-of- paint kind of experience.


Yet, I believe that Jesus’ decision to call fishermen

to be among the first of his disciples is highly significant.

The call to follow Christ entails both excitement and resilience.


The thrill of conversion is made complete

by the familiarity of on-going commitment.


In other words, the soul the responds to the call of discipleship

will know the tingling feel of aftershave on the face

as well as the scratch of Lava soap on the hands.


The grace at work in today’s gospel

is more than that of a gospel choir waving its arms in praise;

it is also that of a mechanic clocking out at the shop

for a night of paying bills at home

and helping his fifth grader with her math homework.


The grace of discipleship

is that of an orderly lifting an elderly man

from a wheelchair into a bed.


The result of responding to the call of Christ

is seen in iron-hard love etched into the face

of a mother driving to Lucasville Prison

to visit her son doing time.


For this is what happens when someone

exchanges one form of fishing for another.


The dream of the Kingdom transforms the horizon

but duty and routine remain part of the experience:


When I was sick you assisted me,

when I was in prison you visited me

and when I was naked you clothed me….


This too, is a part of our religion:


In addition to the thrill of something new,

the daily effort to do the good and decent thing

also draws us close to God…

even when we are not aware of it.


The hours we work in order to feed our families,

the efforts we extend to help those in need

and the commitments we make to stay the course

through difficult times…

these things matter deeply to Christ.


They’re the durable nets required for Gospel-type fishing;

the type of gear we keep close at hand

in those lived-in houses we call home

and the familiar garages where we hang our tools.

©Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer



In many ways,

this call story is like every other call story.

It begins with an unexpected invitation,

and ends

with a risky decision,

a leap of faith,

and some baggage left behind.


Every call story I have ever heard

starts with God’s initiative,

and ends with men and women

who are willing to take a chance.


It is tempting to see this Gospel passage

as a story only about Jesus and James and John.

After all,

James and John dropped everything--

fishing nets,



and walked out of the water

to follow their Lord.

If we think of Zebedee at all,

it's with a bit of pity,

and more than a little regret.  


Poor Zebedee—

left behind

while his sons

are called on the adventure of a lifetime.


Poor Zebedee,

he's like the odd man out

after choosing teams;

the broken cookie at the bottom of the box;

the last of the batter

left in the bowl.

If we see Zebedee at all,

we see him as the old man

sitting in a leaky boat

clutching an empty net

and holding some shattered dreams.  


Zebedee has became a symbol;

a sign of what it means to

leave it all

and follow Christ. 

A reminder of the power of call

and the immediacy of response.

If we remember Zebedee at all,

it is as a cautionary tale—

a watery lesson

on the true cost of discipleship

and the importance of traveling light.


And all of that

every last bit of it

is true.


But maybe there's more to Zebedee's story

than we see at first glance.

Maybe the legacy he left us

is more than a backward wave

and a quick good-bye. 

Maybe there's a lesson to be learned

from the father who was left behind.  


This lesson won't be found in a theatrical conversion story

or a drastic change of life.

It won't be heard in fiery preaching or

or a dramatic conclusion.  

His example is quieter,

less visible,

but perhaps no less important. 


Maybe Zebedee reminds us

that there is a difference between “left behind”

and “remains behind”.

His story reminds us

that for every missionary sent out into the field,

there must be someone who remains behind,

paying the bills and hauling in the nets.


For every disciple who drops everything   

to follow a call,

there needs to be someone in position to

catch the pieces before they shatter and break.


For every man or woman who forsakes family to follow Christ,

there is someone who stands firm--

ready to hug the children and water the crops.  


Maybe Zebedee answered a call

no less compelling

and no less complete

than the one that inspired his sons

to drop the nets and get out of the boat.  

His work, 

although less romantic,

less glamorous--

is no less necessary.


Maybe he stayed in the boat

to put food on the table for the families of James and John.

Maybe he supported the ministry of Jesus

with fervent prayers,

fresh fish

and some ready cash.


Maybe his sons' dramatic call

inspired him to reach out--

to feed the poor

and shelter the homeless.


Maybe when James and John were called to drop their nets,

Zebedee's call was to pick them up.


It’s true,

There is always a price

attached to a call from God.

There will almost always be

someone left behind,

something left undone,

someplace else to go. 

And it’s true,

there’s always risk –

something new,

something unexpected,

something big.


But maybe it would help to remember

that God is taking a risk on us.


G. K. Chesterton may have had such moments in mind

 when he wrote,

"An adventure is,

by its nature,

a thing that comes to us.

It is thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”


Everyone who is gifted with faith is chosen for adventure.

Whether called to leave or called to stay,

it comes to us,

ready or not,

like it came to James, John and yes,


unbidden, unimagined, untamed,

“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.

Come after me”.


© Susan Fleming McGurgan

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