Dividing the spoils

Published on 23 Jan 2020
A monochrome image of a Christ-like figure in a stream of light

Jesus calls us to follow him. His call has all the authority of God. It is however an invitation to which we respond in complete freedom. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we followers of Christ find ourselves liberated from many burdens and difficulties. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.[1] Furthermore, our discipleship is not a new kind of imprisonment replacing the old ones from which we have been freed. Our saviour leads captivity captive [2]. His authority over us is not tyrannical or abusive. The Lord strikes off various chains and invites us to live in his way and in his light. The rod of the oppressor you break [3]. He empowers. He does not re-ensnare us. If he exercises sway over us, we are free each day to renew or halt our acceptance of this good influence. 

God loves us dearly. He enlists our willing obedience. We happily choose his path having discovered that it is what we deeply desire. There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the lord, to behold his temple [4]. The creator holds us in being and invites us to grow closer to him but does not insist on our devotion. Our responsibility to God presents itself to us as the first of our obligations which we choose to meet or not to meet in thorough liberty. Jesus persists in offering his loving invitation to follow him though our response might be inconsistent, lukewarm or even completely negative His ever-renewed call attracts us but without sorcery or seduction. If we follow, we do so freely.

The call is personal.  Our maker calls us by name [5].  Even before we were born, we were destined for his service [6].  We hear his invitation, steadily repeated, in our particular circumstances.  Yet our discipleship is exercised in company with numerous others.  Many are called [7].  It can surprise us that the summons to be a follower of the Lord, experienced so personally, can be issued so widely.  He wants to save everyone.  God gathers in a great harvest. He nets a great catch. His victory over oppressors is on a very large-scale. The magnitude of the divine success delights us.  

Can we find our particular place amid the multitude of those loved and called? We relish our individual invitation. How does the freedom the Lord confers on us sit with our being part of great harvest, our being netted along with many others and our being among the spoils of a great victory? We are glad to be nurtured: must we also be harvested? It pleases us that the loving saviour pursues us and saves us: are we also scooped up in a general salvation? We readily acknowledge God’s glory and praise him with all our heart: do we also walk in his triumphal procession among the prisoners and booty?

Has Christ been parcelled out? [8] The love of our saviour unifies us in ourselves and unites us to others. Far from our particular call being diluted by our being part of a great throng, the Lord strengthens us by the universality of his summons.  He draws us to himself, confers integrity on us and extends his loving care to each one. The divine harvest does not lose us in its immensity. In the lifetime allotted to us, we make our contribution, little as it may seem. Our being scooped up in a mighty catch far from drowning us in a multitude allows our particularity to find its best use [9]. The greatness of God holds us all together without losing any one of us, unless that is our desire. The first fervour of following can dim. The way of Christ leads to Calvary. Some followers, enthusiastic as they might be at the beginning, fall away at later stages. No one is imprisoned in their first commitment. The chains continue to be taken off.  Those who were once captives can, at any time, cease to be follow the one who is liberating them. If there is a procession, everyone is free, at any moment to slip out from the parade and join the onlookers.

The spoils of war are usually confiscated from someone to whom they used to belong. In the Lord’s triumph over evil we are indeed his prize.  He cherishes us and rejoices that we have chosen freedom. Therefore we are not stolen goods. Discipleship is a gift we might receive not our being robbed of what is dear to us. We are rescued from exile and imprisonment and brought back to where we want to be. The humble redeemer shares his triumph with us. The suggestion that the victor belongs to the spoils [10] is usually a commentary on the emptiness of earthly triumphs. In the case of Jesus Christ his devotion to us whom he has so struggled to win is no diminishment either for him or for us. Our humble saviour honours us by showing us how to be like him. He gathers us not acquisitively but self-sacrificingly.

The Lord’s grace-filled call allows us to rediscover our rightful place as if for the first time. The work we are being invited to do is in harmony with what is expected of all the others. I appeal to you, brothers, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to be united again in your belief and practice [11]. The invitation to follow Christ unites us to the many others who have received it.  Discipleship reveals itself at home, at work and wherever we might be. Jesus early asked some brothers to follow him and some busy breadwinners. They were in their boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him [12]. Others were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen.[13].

The band of followers include new brothers and sisters, with whom there is to be harmonious co-working. The ties to the family are not shattered. The siblings are also called. There is a leaving of the parents but also a discovery of new obligations to them.  Jesus frees us from our sins not from our responsibilities. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand [14]. There is a certain retreat from the nets but also a new use for the familiar tools of the trade. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ [15]. The disciples search out other lost sheep in the same loving and personal way in which they themselves have been found and called by the master.

The harvesting, netting and capturing which the followers of Jesus do at his command is as liberating for those they seek out as their own frequently-renewed call has been for them. Evangelism is a sharing of something wonderful and does not oppress or trap. Christ sent me to preach the Good News [16]. The apostle behaves as Jesus does: he went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people [17]. There is so much good to be done. The mission of Christ, shared with a crowd of followers, each one individually called, is to do all that is needful to make the world once more a true reflection of the One who made it. I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living [18].

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]   Isaiah 9.2
[2]   ‘leads captivity captive’ is the Douay-Rheims translation of the phrase cepisti aptivitatem in the
     Vulgate version of Psalm (68) 67.19 which is quoted in Ephesians 4.8
[3]   Isaiah 9.4
[4]   Psalm (27) 26.4
[5]   Isaiah 43.1 Fear not, for I have redeemed you, and called you by your name: you are mine. 
[6]   Jeremiah 1.5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.
[7]   Matthew 22.14
[8]   1 Corinthians 1.13
[9]   John 21.11 in spite of there being so many the net was not broken.
[10]    Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940 The Beautiful and the Damned 1922  p. 1
[11]    1 Corinthians 1.10
[12]    Matthew 4.21-22
[13]    Matthew 4.18-20
[14]    Matthew 4.17 with verse 12
[15]    Matthew 4.18-20
[16]    1 Corinthians 1.17
[17]    Matthew 4.23
[18]    Psalm (27) 26.13