“Sing a new song unto the Lord” by Fr Pat Egan SDB – Reflection and Lectio Divina

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B – Lectio divina on Mk 1, 14-20

It is significant that the call of the first disciples follows Jesus’ first proclamation of the Kingdom, right at the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus introduced himself in two ways: the evangelization of Galilee and the setting-up of a group of disciples. The inauguration of discipleship is the first sign of the arrival of the Kingdom. The account of the call of the disciples outlines the essential characteristics of discipleship. The initiative comes from Jesus who observes them at their ordinary daily work before he calls them. His invitation is commanding and their response is immediate. Joining the company of Jesus changes the disciples’ occupation and their family situation. Any preaching that does not produce disciples, as its first fruit, is not evangelization. The Kingdom appears when men are able to leave all they are and all they have in order to follow Jesus more closely. Evangelization which does not give rise to vocations is questionable. If those who listen do not become companions of Jesus, then the Kingdom has not been made known and the listeners have not met Christ.

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  16 And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”  18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  20 And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him. 

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.

Mark puts the call of the first disciples right at the beginning of his gospel. This fact is often overlooked but it is important. Jesus’ first meeting with specific people, immediately after his public revelation as preacher of the Kingdom (Mk 1,14-15; Jn 1,29) concludes with a call to follow him (Mk 1,17.20; Jn 1,39).

The call of the first disciples (Mk 1,16-20) is, therefore, the first proof of the effectiveness of his word and the authority that accompanied the person of Jesus. The preceding narrative (Mk 1,2-16) does not set the scene in the way John does (Jn 1,40), nor does Mark describe how the disciples are won over (as in Lk 5,1-11). Instead, Mark presents Jesus as having an irresistible personality.

The account is clearly divided into two parts. Verses 16-18 relate the call of Peter and Andrew, while, in a closely parallel account, verses 19-20 tell of the call of James and John. The two accounts open and close in the same way. Jesus is passing by and he sees some men (Mk 1,16.19). In both cases they happen to be brothers. They leave everything and go after him. This change in their activity demands that they leave their previous occupation (Mk1,16-17.19-20). The change is brought about by the words of Jesus, which are mentioned explicitly only in the first scene (Mk 1,17. 20). The similarity of the two episodes could be deemed monotonous, but if we compare them, some differences can be seen. In both cases, Jesus finds two brothers who are fishermen, and he calls them. The call is explicit in the first instance (Mk 1,17) but merely implicit in the second (Mk 1,17). Also, the “leaving all” is less detailed and less radical in the first instance. The first two left their work, the second pair left their work and their family.

The account emphasizes the essential elements of vocation:

1. The initiative is from Jesus. In the whole account, he is quite clearly the main agent – he is passing by, he sees, he speaks, and he is obeyed immediately.

2. The disciples’ following of Jesus is the consequence of a personal call. Those who follow him share his life.

3. The call leads to a change of occupation: they leave their nets, and boats, and even their father, to follow Jesus and him alone.  Jesus takes the place of all their previous activities. Following him leads to a new and exclusive occupation – that of discipleship. Anyone who follows Jesus has nothing more to do with his previous business.

4. It is significant that at the centre of the account there is the spoken word of Jesus, explicit in the first instance (Mk 1,17), implied in the second (Mk 1,20). Every vocation is in the form of a dialogue. But here there is no conversation, no time to convince – Jesus gives an order and it is carried out immediately. As soon as he hears Jesus, the one who is called responds by going with him immediately. The response is brought about, not by the one who hears the call, but by the one who calls, and he makes the one called responsible for his vocation.

II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life

At the very start of his ministry, Jesus presents his most important message, the one that prompted him to leave the life he had been living at home with his people and take on a new task in life. His life and death were testimony to his preaching of the Kingdom of God.

Everything Jesus taught and did throughout Galilee must be regarded as a consequence of his preaching. “The time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand.” We will be better able to approach the personal mystery of Jesus, if we understand those words of Jesus. They are the first words spoken by him in the Gospel of Mark, words that take him out of anonymity and introduce him to the world. These words contain the secret of Jesus of Nazareth, and the possibility offered to each one of us to open ourselves to him. The moment of faith and radical conversion has come. If we listen to that first message of Jesus, and believe him when he says that the Kingdom of God is close at hand, then we will hear his voice and the demands he makes of us. We will meet him as a person and come to share his convictions.

At the time of Jesus, the Kingdom of God was a symbol of all that the chosen people hoped for from their God. They believed that when the Kingdom of God was realized upon earth, they would enjoy national liberty, political security, economic prosperity, religious peace and freedom to do God‘s will. They expected that one fine day, and in some as yet unknown manner, God would become present. He would overcome all obstacles and conquer all the enemies who opposed God and the needs of his faithful people.

The remarkable thing about what Jesus said is that he did not speak about a Kingdom that was to come, but he announced a Kingdom that was already here, close at hand to those who were converted.

What kind of conversion did he call for? He said it himself, “Repent, and believe the good news;” in other words, “Believe what I am about to tell you and have faith in what I am about to do. Precisely because the Kingdom of God is close at hand, God’s plan and your deepest desires are about to be realized. All that is necessary is for you to believe.”

However much he might want to, God cannot draw near, to those who do not believe. God’s Kingdom takes root in the hearts of believers, and not in those who do not believe.

Quite clearly, this is where our problems arise. Nowadays, even we who call ourselves believers, do not have faith in the gospel of Jesus. We do not believe the message of Jesus about the Kingdom of God close at hand, and the Kingdom that is to come. The most profound conversion, the most difficult one that God wants of us, is to have faith and trust in him and in his promises, and to take his word seriously.

He wants to give us a new world. He wants to draw close to our problems in the most powerful way, and to satisfy our best desires, the longing for love and security that we all nourish. But we just cannot believe it, or maybe we don’t want to. We frustrate the best plans of God because we are incredulous, incapable of believing that God is interested in a world like ours and in people like us. We put God to the test by our lack of trust and hope, by our failure to dream of something better than what we can get by ourselves. We repress our better sentiments for fear we might not be able to satisfy them.

Without realizing it, we have lost hope that God can put right our lives and our world, and so we exclude God from our lives. A God who does not guarantee our future is a God who has no future in our lives, and we remain without hope and without the Kingdom.

The truth is that we are the losers, not God. If we do not believe God’s promises, we lose God and his Kingdom. If there is so much to lose, why do we not take the risk and believe? Why do we not hope in God, and have him as our future? We will grow in faith and hope, in trust and security, and we can change the world, if only we are converted and begin to believe God’s promises.

The world cannot remain as it is, as we know it, as we have inherited it, as those who do not know God and do not care about his Kingdom would like it to be. If we were convinced, as Jesus was, that God reigns, that he is coming and that our best dreams will be realized, we would be converted by the good news and become his disciples.

We must not remain indifferent. The world at present is very far from, even contrary to, the gospel of Jesus. The absence of God in our world and the non-acceptance of his will on earth, should not discourage us, but should make us more ardent in hope and stronger in faith. Knowing that God is not yet fully with us should make our longing for him all the more intense and our certainty more secure.

It is significant that, immediately after announcing the good news that God is about to come into our world, Jesus went to two brothers and invited them to follow him. Anyone who is really convinced that God is close at hand, begins to convince others around him.

As Jesus was passing by, preaching the Kingdom, he called those he met to follow him. He could not proclaim the nearness of God and at the same time stay away from people. The first fruit of the Kingdom that was about to come was the group of disciples that was formed around Jesus. They renounced everything they had in hand, their occupation and their nets, and everything they had in their hearts, their family and their father.

Jesus’ disciples were the first fruits of his preaching of the Kingdom. Anyone who acknowledges that God is close at hand, finishes by drawing close to Jesus and remaining with him while he preaches the Kingdom.

It is hard to understand why, after so many years of evangelization, we are not much closer to Jesus. It is incomprehensible that anyone should desire to be close to God, and still not live close to Jesus, remembering his words and doing his will.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by the message that God is near and the fact that Jesus chose a group of men to live close to him. If we want to be faithful to our origins, we must have faith in the good news about God, and follow Jesus. Our conversion today requires of us a more conscious acceptance of God in our lives and a greater openness to his will. This is possible only if we let go of everything that binds us, and become disciples of Jesus for the whole of our lives.

We should not worry about what we have to leave behind in order to follow him. What we receive in return is to be united to him, and that is all that really matters. We may be frightened of abandoning all and putting ourselves entirely at his service, but we know with certainty that we will emerge the winners, having Jesus close to us and having God as our future.