THEN THEY ABANDONED THEIR NETS AND FOLLOWED HIM
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
II. THE MYSTERY OF JESUS
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The Call of the First Disciples
16 As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.17Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”18Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.19He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets.20Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
Other readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark has a somewhat abrupt way of telling Jesus’ history. He offers no birth narrative, and only a few lines are used to describe John’s announcement of the Messiah; Jesus’ baptism and proclamation as the “beloved Son;” and his temptations in the desert. Then, with just a slight reference to the Baptist’s arrest, in the fourteenth verse of the first chapter, we find Jesus embarked on the mission of proclaiming of the Kingdom of God. There is a feeling of urgency. The time (perhaps the Greek word kairòs could be better translated as the “opportunity-to-be-grasped-right-now”) has arrived, it is right here. You have to convert, change your mentality, the way you approach reality (that is the deepest meaning of the Greek metánoia) if you do not want to miss the train of God’s Kingdom. In fact, that feeling of urgency is present throughout the entire Gospel. There is another word, euthùs, meaning “at once, immediately,” that appears 41 times in Mark’s text. In some cases, it could be interpreted as “then;” but even so, the tone we should perceive is this: the Kingdom of God, the Good News, does not allow delays, we cannot “make it wait.”
We find this after Jesus’ baptism: “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert” (1:12). But this phrase could give us another cue to understand, under a different light, the vocation of the first four disciples: all of them leave everything, their families and their jobs, and “at once” follow him (1:18, 20). There is, as we can see, a deep difference between the calm, quiet approach taken by John in the passage we read last Sunday. There is no time to stay with Jesus, chat and learn his plans, understand why and how he is the Lamb of God, and what he expects from them. In Mark’s text, what they hear is a simple, firm command: “Come after me” (1:17). They understood that “he called them” (1:20). The only hint about what he expected from them is an announcement (or perhaps, a promise?) “I will make you fishers of men” (1:17). Jesus’ calling is radical and demands a radical response. There is no time for reflection or for saying goodbye to relatives or friends. The difference from the calling of Elisha by Elijah is remarkable. The old prophet did not prevent his newly chosen successor “to go kiss his father and mother good-bye” before following him (1 Kings 19:19-21). Today’s calling anticipates another example of Jesus’ radical style mentioned by Matthew (8:18-22) and Luke (9:57-62): “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” And there is also a difference in the response from the first disciples and the attitude of Jonah. Whereas the prophet is stubbornly reluctant to obey Yahweh’s command to preach conversion to the inhabitants of Nineveh, and even feels angry because they did penance and were forgiven, the disciples “abandoned their nets … left their father … and followed him.”
There is still another link, even if it may seem strange, between the Gospel and the text from Paul. For the apostle, the certitude of the imminent coming of the Lord makes him see reality from a different perspective, and that is what he advises the Christians in Corinth. “The time is running out.” So, what is the point in paying more attention to things than they deserve? This attitude can be summed up as looking at reality “as if,” because its values (marrying or buying, weeping or rejoicing) are relative when compared with the real, eternal values. So the first disciples may consider their nets, their jobs, their relations, “as if” they had no value when compared with the Kingdom announced by Jesus, “even if” they have to take the risk of following a rabbi they hardly know, but in whom they think they have found the Messiah.
The texts today would be perfect for a retreat or a day of reflection for young people trying to make a decision concerning their vocation, or their plans for their future in the Christian community. Most of us, I suppose, made our decisions and chose “our way” some (perhaps a long) time ago. Nevertheless, having already made a choice does not relieve us from the permanent renewal of our option. No declaration of “Yes, I do” is as firm and solid as a rock, and we know that even rocks are subjected to erosion and decay. This is not a session of therapy, but a moment for reflection on God’s Word. Would we now make the same decision, would we opt for the personal path we chose when we decided to study and follow a precise profession, get married, enter religious life, or even become a priest? That question may seem very thorny. Put it aside. Think about the circumstances of the disciples when they first heard about Jesus, a street preacher and rabbi, perhaps a true prophet, but maybe a trickster. Would we respond to Jesus’ calling as James and John, and Andrew and Peter did, when Jesus approached them? “They abandoned their nets.” Would we abandon our nets and go after him? What would prevent or hinder us from following Jesus? What is, now, an obstacle in our way to giving ourselves completely to him?
Pray for those who face serious decisions concerning their professional or vocational future: that the Spirit may grant them both lucidity to discern their way and a generous firmness to take the steps to respond to their vocation.
Pray for those who, after a long life of fidelity to their calling, feel the dismay of routine, or look at their lives as a barren endeavor: that they may hear again Jesus’ comforting voice calling them to work in the announcement of the Gospel and regain the joy of following him as Lord and Savior.
Do not forget to pray for Christian Unity, and join Christians praying all over the world in this official Week of Prayer.
“’Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” “’Here I am,’” I said; “’send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8). “The Lord answered me, Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jeremiah 1:7). Read those passages in which the two greatest prophets of Israel recall their vocation. See that the fact of being “a man of unclean lips” or “too young” and not knowing “how to speak,” is not an obstacle to be called to proclaim God’s message. Nor was it a hindrance for Peter being “a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) to his being called by Jesus to become an apostle. Try to identify the perceived obstacles we often build up in order to shield ourselves against a full commitment to Jesus’ calling to higher responsibilities in our Christian communities.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain