Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday Readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Come with me and I will teach you to catch people.” Mark 1: 14-20

If we need any evidence to convince us that the Gospels are not history books, we only have to look at the gospel-readings of today and last Sunday. Those readings give us two very different accounts of the call of Jesus’ first disciples. The Gospels were written at different times for different, early-Christian communities to show them how the love, compassion and mercy of God was revealed and expressed to the world through the life and ministry of Jesus. The four Evangelists engaged in that task by telling and retelling stories that were repeated in the years after Jesus’ death. Some of those stories were factual, and some were changed and embellished in much the same way as we embellish and add to our stories and stories that are passed on to us. That’s a characteristic of human behaviour with which we are all familiar. That does not mean that the original stories and their variations lose their truth.  They are all true in that the message they contain faithfully reflects how Jesus prepared for and got busy with his mission.
Today’s gospel-reading is Mark’s account of how Jesus called his first disciples to join him. It’s quite possible that some of those whom Mark named in today’s gospel-reading were among those whom Jesus invited home in the reading we heard from John last Sunday. “Home” is a place where we are all comfortable and a place to which we can invite guests without the need to stand on formalities. The disciples of John the Baptist who accepted Jesus’ invitation to join him at home were clearly impressed with Jesus in the chat he had with them when he invited them in. Otherwise, they would not have stayed so long with him (approximately 6 hours). That Jesus invited them home in the first place demonstrated his need for company and friendship. We all nurture friendship by inviting people home. Those visitors to Jesus were so impressed that they had no hesitation in chasing up relatives and friends to tell them that they had met the Messiah. While Mark’s telling how Simon, Andrew, James and John left their nets immediately might be saying something about the extraordinary magnetism of Jesus’ personality, it might also be based on the assumption that some of them had already had an earlier encounter with Jesus and that the invitation from Jesus to them by the lake was the tipping point that led them to act immediately. The process of coming to make important decisions gradually is something with which we are all familiar.
It is worthy of note that Jesus, in inviting the four fishermen to be his disciples, assured them that he would build on their hard-earned work skills, and teach them to become “fishers of men (sic)”. As experienced fishermen, these new disciples had already learned how to be patient. They knew from experience that fishing was an unpredictable occupation. Casting their nets did not always result in good catches. Not only did they have to study the movement patterns of fish in the Sea of Galilee, but they would have had to master the skills of determining the kinds of berley required to attract the different varieties of fish that changed as the seasons and currents changed. Jesus realised that their acquired skills would be valuable when it came to presenting his message repeatedly, patiently and appealingly. By inviting them to become fishers of men, he did not even hint that fishing was a mug’s game.
Hard-working men that they were, their learning to be disciples would turn out to be painstakingly less speedy than their unhesitating response to Jesus’ initial invitation. Their early enthusiasm was dulled by their frequent failures to grasp what he repeatedly tried to teach them. Even after he finally thought that they were almost ready to succeed him, they failed him at the time he most needed their support. They even deserted and betrayed him. Eventually, after his crucifixion and resurrection, he took the calculated risk of entrusting them with the role of proclaiming his message to all humankind. The risk was lessened by the fact that he had total trust in the impact the Holy Spirit would have on them.
As successors to generations of disciples who were captivated by Jesus and his message, we, in our turn, by virtue of our faith in and pledged allegiance to Jesus, have been entrusted to proclaim in word and action the very same message that Jesus proclaimed to our world.
Shaped and formed by our education in faith, we now have inherited the role of being fishers of women and men, assisting our sisters and brothers to realise that God’s love is a gift for all of us and that God is present and active in our world despite persistent efforts by some to keep that truth hidden.
As disciples of Jesus in a world in which many of our sisters and brothers are suffering and struggling, we have a responsibility to be messengers of hope, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. To be that kind of disciple will demand of us patience, tolerance, resilience and perseverance – all qualities of successful fisherfolk. And qualities required of all who would dare to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Only we can decide if that is a challenge which we are prepared to accept and to which we can measure up.