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.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
When we read the Gospel each week we need to be aware of the context so we can better understand the biblical text. Our Gospel this week opens “after John [the Baptist] had been arrested.” We find Jesus in Galilee after his own baptism by John and his subsequent forty-day sojourn in the wilderness of Judea. Jesus has moved north to Galilee to avoid confronting Herod, who has recently imprisoned John.
As we follow our “backstory” thread, we note that Jesus has also made his way to Cana and a wedding celebration there (John 2) before arriving at his home village of Nazareth (Luke 4). In Nazareth Jesus enters the local synagogue and preaches a sermon that results in his being driven out of his own home village.
We know that Jesus had travelled to Cana in the company of Peter and Andrew, who live and work in Capernaum (John 1). Is it possible that they had invited him to visit their family there? If Jesus and his mother had been driven out of Nazareth it is possible that they found their way to Capernaum and the home of Andrew and Peter. This seems to be the case as the Gospel opens this week. Finally, I think that we can comfortably conclude that by the time Jesus calls the four fishermen to follow him he has already known them for a couple of months, and that he is most probably the house guest of two of them, Peter and Andrew.
Our backstory is important because it helps the reader understand why these four fishermen would leave their successful commercial fishing business and then follow Jesus, the healing, preaching, and teaching Rabbi from Nazareth. They must have known him long enough to trust him when he called them into his exclusive company. Jesus knew that they were ready to respond.
All four of these disciples were commercial fishermen. They lived in Capernaum along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. They plied the waters of the sea at night and would return in the morning to sort their catch and repair their nets. Ancient fishermen used “gill” nets to harvest fish from the Sea of Galilee. In the process of a night’s fishing, the fine fibers that make the nets easy and effective to cast at night would tear as the fish thrashed about. Each morning their final routine was completed as the nets were mended—the knots were re-tied and the nets were tested by casting them on the water. Then the nets were stored on the boat, ready for use the following evening. Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him just after this task is completed.
“Repent, and believe in the good news.” This phrase marks the initial proclamation of Jesus as he begins his public ministry in Galilee. “Good news” is the literal meaning of the word gospel. Jesus announces this gospel to all who are willing to turn around and listen. That is what the word repent means—to turn around and pay attention to what the speaker has to say.
Jesus knows that before you can believe in the good news of the gospel you have to “repent.” In this reading, Jesus is challenging us to stop moving away from the kingdom of God that he is going to reveal to the world. He wants us to stop, to turn around, and then to come back to listen and live.
The word repent also carries a deeper spiritual meaning. The Greek word behind our English translation is “metanoia.” “Metanoia” literally means to “turn around your mind.” It is a call to change the way you have been thinking and consider a new way of looking at your life. The call to repent is an invitation to change. To change in the way that we think and to change in the way that we live.
Cardinal Newman (1801–1890) wrote that “To live is change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” That is the call of the Gospel this week and the source of our meditation. Are we willing to repent, to change our way of thinking, as we deepen our commitment to Jesus in the Word?
In Isaiah 55:8-9 (NRSV) God shares his mind with us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Lord, give us the grace to put on your mind this week. May your thoughts be our thoughts and your ways ours as we do our best to live as your servants this week.
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). That’s one possible application of this call to repent. It is not enough to desire change. It’s in the actual doing, the change itself, that we are transformed. We know, for example, that we should serve the poor. That is the first step. When we actually serve the poor our lives are transformed and we learn to think differently about the poor, poverty, systems that oppress, and other important insights. The gospel message, the “good news” of Jesus begins with service, leads to death, and is validated by the resurrection on the other side of the grave. That is the gospel way of life—and one we need to emulate if we want to grow in our faith.
Four fisherman leave their nets and their gainful employment to follow Jesus. He had known them long enough to trust that they might leave all behind to follow him. They had spent enough time with Jesus to be ready to respond to the invitation to discipleship. They put their faith in Jesus into practice by their decision to become his followers that day. Will we be ready to respond to that same call? Today? This week? This year?