Homily – January 22nd, 2012
CALLING APOSTLES –MARK 1: 14-20
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time January 22, 2012
Jesus announces the kingdom of God among us. Because the time is ripe, Jesus begins making us aware of God’s presence. Although in democratic America, we shy from the idea of a ruler king, we recognize that God rules over Israel, over the nations, and over the cosmos. Perhaps Jesus uses this expression “kingdom of God” to form a contrast with the dynasty of King Herod. That king existed because the Romans placed him on a throne; Herod built cities so that people might realize him as a king. Unlike Herod’s kingship, God’s kingdom is evident in people embracing God’s rule. Jesus calls people to join the kingdom of God. As first associates, Jesus calls two brothers, Andrew and Simon. “Then they left their nets and followed Him.” This ready response contrasts with Jonah’s response. The Lord calls to Jonah, but instead of heading for Nineveh as the Lord commands, Jonah “made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord” (1:3). So Jonah goes to the seaside city of Joppa, finds a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord (1:3). Eventually, of course, the Lord forces Jonah to Nineveh, and to preach in Nineveh, but Andrew and Simon respond quite in contrast, for they leave their fishing gear and follow Jesus. “Then they left their nets and followed him.”
Our bronze art in the entry to our parish office dramatizes this key Christian calling. Water and fishing boat, that enigmatic boat-mast suggestive of a cross, and the three figures of Jesus with Peter and Andrew—all of this in bronze awakens you and me to that historical drama. This calling of Simon and Andrew suggests our parish effort to project God’s kingdom here on our island.
Farther along the shoreline, Jesus calls to “James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then [Jesus] called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.”
Perhaps the call, they thought, would be for an hour or for an afternoon. These two leave their parent, their father Zebedee. Maybe at the time, James and John did not realize what would ensue. But Jesus has an insistence, a beckoning that draws with importunity. In Jesus, a magnet attracts. So they follow, not just walking in His immediate footprints, but importantly adopting His way of thinking, His viewing of people, His embrace of the worthwhile and His rejection of the shopworn ways of the haughty Pharisees.
And Jesus calls these four men to a new way of living. They will imitate Jesus when He sends them two by two to various villages in order to preach as He is preaching. So they will have a new way of thinking, a new agenda, a different set of ideas. What now matters is not the number of fish that they can net during the night, nor the amount of money that they can rake in for their fish; what matters now is that they are to become fishers of men, able to draw people to Jesus’ attitude to God.
This most famous of calls to discipleship we hear as Jesus draws four apostles. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” On another occasion in a boat, Jesus directs Simon to ‘lower your nets for a catch’….Although objecting that they have fished all night without a catch, Simon and his partners lower the nets and their catch fills both boats, and astonishment overwhelms them. ‘Do not be afraid,’ Jesus tells them; ‘from now on, you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:4, 10-11).
James Joyce recalls this scene in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The rector of boarding school recalls to Stephen Daedalus that Saint Francis Xavier while baptizing many in Malaysia “was a great fisher of souls!” (Chapter 3). The Jesus’ call symbolizes becoming a disciple, and the fish symbolizes a person. Peter’s successors have been known as occupying the chair of the great Fisherman. The gospel has become symbolic of a net. We note on automobiles the use of a fish to suggest Jesus. In the logo of this parish, we employ a fish in the waters around us, and we thus suggest a Christian ambiance. If our society bends and erases religion from our environment, still the famous call from Jesus echoes in our Christian thinking.
Jesus calls you and me to live with a tension in our Christianity. The kingdom of God resides here and now with us. Yet the kingdom of God will reach completion only on the last day. For us, as for Peter and Andrew, for James and John, becoming a Christian takes only a moment; these four “immediately” leave their boats and their fishing gear, even their parents. Now is their departure, not a few months or a few years hence, but now.
Answering the call, yet they grew in their following of Jesus, for Peter, at a weak moment, denies the Lord, and Thomas doubts His resurrection. These immediate Christians had also to progress with Jesus. That tension resides in us as it did in the apostle John for, three days after the crucifixion, he peers into the empty tomb, and at that moment he sees and “believes.” We grow in the faith, until faith gives way to my own eyes seeing God face to face. Amen.