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Jesus Christ is not a mere fact, but a living invitation

On the Readings for Sunday, January 26, 2020

Byzantine mosaic of Jesus Christ (c.1300) in the Pammakaristos Church, Istanbul, Turkey [Wikipedia]

• Is 8:23-9:3
• Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14
• 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17
• Mt 4:12-23

In the opening paragraphs of his encyclical on hope, Pope Benedict XVI observed that the Christian message of the Gospel is not just “informative”—that is, filled with good content—but also “performative.” This means that “the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open” (Spe Salvi, par 2).

Sacred Scripture can be read in different ways. One way of reading it is to sift through its contents in order to gain information about, say, moral teachings, cultural artifacts, and historical facts. We can—and should—read the Gospels in order to learn about Jesus Christ. But many people read about Jesus and never believe He is the Son of God who came to save the world. On the contrary, many people who know the Bible quite well do not believe the information contained within it is true or even helpful. As Benedict wryly noted in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, there are some biblical scholars who spend much time and effort undermining and even attacking the content of Scripture.

The opening verses of Matthew 4, which come immediately prior to today’s Gospel reading, describe Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert. The evil one demonstrates how adept he is at quoting Scripture in an attempt to destroy Jesus. “The devil,” quipped Benedict, “proves to be a Bible expert who can quote the Psalm exactly” (Jesus of Nazareth, 35). Likewise, Jesus was often persecuted most intently by scribes whose lives were devoted to reading and interpreting the Law of Moses.

Today’s Gospel recounts that Jesus, following the temptation in the desert, withdrew to the region of Galilee. He likely did this, on one hand, out of practical necessity, avoiding the possibility of being arrested and killed as John the Baptist had been. But Matthew explains that Jesus, in spending time in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, also brought light—that is, the good news about the Kingdom of heaven—to an area described in terms of “darkness” and “death.” Many centuries prior, around 900 B.C., these two regions, which were to the west and north of the Sea of Galilee, had been conquered by Syria. Nearly two hundred years later they were invaded and annexed by the Assyrians, and most the Jews residing there were taken into exile and replaced with pagan settlers.

It is estimated that in the time of Jesus about half of the population in Galilee was Gentile, hence the name “District of the Gentiles” used by Isaiah in today’s Old Testament reading. Into this land of darkness and death—most likely a reference to the pagan beliefs and practices common to those regions—came the light of Christ. The public ministry of Jesus began with the proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is the same message John the Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matt 3:1); the essential difference is the messenger. Whereas John proclaimed the Kingdom and the way of salvation, Jesus is the King and the way of salvation. John’s preaching was informative, but it could not ultimately perform what it pointed toward: the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls.

John’s Gospel indicates many of Jesus’ disciples had first been followers of John the Baptist (Jn 1:35-37). These men were probably somewhat familiar with Jesus prior to being called to be “fishers of men.” When the proper time came and they were called away from their boats and livelihood, they immediately followed. The message of Jesus was not, for them, merely information, but a way of living and being. The person of Jesus was not a mere fact, but a living invitation to come into saving communion with the King and His kingdom. Today, the Lord calls us as well—from darkness to light, from death to life, from being fishermen to becoming fishers of men.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the January 27, 2008, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1184 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. The Gospel readings of today an example as to how easy it is to subtly reject the
    word , in its depth and power , how one needs to look deep within to search for such attitudes , struggling to grow in hope and gratitude for what has already been given , such as the many such miracles in the ministries in The Church as well . – that promise of laying on of hands for the sick to recover – easy to fall into a subtle disappointment of all the occasions of no such dramatic incidents in one’s life , yet , in its deeper meaning , that laying on of hands can also be as to how one puts one’s efforts , in hope and trust in perseverance for healing , in the spiritual realm as well and for the many occasions of having been protected from illnesses and to even include the healing extended for the souls in purgatory .. and thank God that The Church continues to do just that and more , through centuries .

    May The Spirit through the prayers of all the holy ones help us all , to deepen in faith , hope and love ,in the power of The Word , delivering us all from whatever could be blocking same as well .

  2. Light is wondrous although often mistaken by Darkness. “The devil, quipped Benedict, proves to be a Bible expert who can quote the Psalm exactly Jesus of Nazareth 35. Jesus was often persecuted most intently by scribes whose lives were devoted to reading and interpreting the Law of Moses”. The Word revealed itself in Christ’s words and life. Revelation integral to our Deposit of Faith. As Jesus was tempted to turn stone into bread an accommodation to the human condition we find similarity to reaching out to the world by accommodation. The last temptation. Restructure of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute Curia priority of Propaganda Fides over the CDF examples. Christ’s words have been subject to interpretation today we’re presented by the Pontiff with emphasis on mercy that seems to paradoxically contrast with repentance. A significant argument is made that for the doctrinally disenfranchised [D&R, cohabitation, civil same sex relationships] that mercy as proposed in Amoris Laetitia can be a first step toward full reunion with the Church. This the essential challenge to the faithful prompting fracture within the Church. It seems mercy as proposed is kinder, more embracing of a deeply wounded Mankind. Does mercy as proposed although it conceivably may have the desired effect in instances extend beyond those instances? Reasoned knowledge of our nature leans toward a softening posture of itself effects a simple indisputable premise. That if it’s permissible to receive the sacraments prior to formal reconciliation [not simply sham confession rather a radical change of life style] should it not be permissible to continue as is? If there ever was a proposition made to the universal Church that is deceptive this is. The call from Darkness to Light dispels any ambiguity only when it commands that we emulate the very life of Christ as conveyed by the Apostles.

    • A sobering litany of dead ends. Like idleness, such ambiguities are also the devil’s workshop.

      Might we discern that false messaging of the moment is very much like ancient Monothelitism, but in new clothing? The early heresy that Christ had only the one and divine will, with no fallen and complicating human will which he was sent to redeem? No longer a distinct human will which, in Him, was and is also in total conformity with the distinct divine will? And today, another blurred middle ground—mercy but not in conformity with truth.

      St. Paul (not widely quoted these days!) didn’t relapse into such a grey-zone midway between the incarnate truth and whatever fallen compromises happen to hang around (“D & R [absent nullity], cohabitation, civil same-sex relationships,” sacramental sacrilege, plus an ambiguous open door to whatever else might yet “extend beyond those instances”).

      “…know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). “And be renewed in spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:23-4).

  3. Prior to 1960 The Word of God given within the gospels was always written in red, reaffirming the cost (Blood/suffering) of the serving of the Truth, His inviolate Word (Will).
    The Gospels express His unique authority, His clear ethic and good news of the kingdom, as it reveals Him God-man, the risen Lord, whose message is truly radial because it is supernatural. His message cannot be misunderstood by ‘anyone’ approaching his Word (Will) with honesty/humility, it’s beauty (Truth) cannot help but inspire integrity, no matter of what religion, race, creed, state of being you are or belong to. While it liberates the heart from pretentiousness in setting the captive /blind (Ignorant) free.

    “The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day”

    We look to His inviolate spoken Word for guidance.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. While it’s profoundly true that “the person of Jesus was not a mere fact, but a living invitation…”, it is also arrestingly true to say that this forever-astonishing Incarnation is not a (mere) invitation, but a fact. (Of this mystery which is more than any manifestation, Von Balthasar says a “collision”—the gratuitous and incomprehensible entrance of the uncreated Spirit into the realm of mere created matter.)

    Unlike the seemingly similar and mythical figures of the late Roman Empire mystery religions, the fully divine and fully human person of Jesus Christ is historically real—a fact—singularly located at a specific time and place. And, therefore, information pinned down for us by the early Christological ecumenical councils as (only) “under Pontius Pilate,” and today in our weekly recitation of the Nicene Creed.

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