I will make you into fishers of men
by Fr Dan Devitt
Recently a terrible tragedy took place in our small rural community. We could hardly believe what had happened. The violent loss of human life dismayed, saddened and confused us.
In St. Mark’s Gospel every major move on Jesus’ part follows something violent that causes confusion in the community. Our gospel passage to-day begins ominously with the arrest of John the Baptist – and the upheavel that ensued. Then Jesus appears in Galilee, proclaiming the Good News: the reign of God is at hand; reform your lives and believe the Good News.
Jesus is acting in the tradition of the prophets, exhorting people to turn away from their usual way of life to a much more fulfilling one. He is calling people to come after him, to follow in his footsteps along the way of justice, mercy and integrity. It is time to veer off the paths of evil, injustice and exploitation. Jesus is calling for a radical operation transformation.
The message of Jesus echoes the Word of the Lord that came to Jonah in the first reading. Jonah is to go and preach to a whole city. And before the first day is done the city is turning and repenting of its wayward ways. On the first day of Jesus preaching he calls two sets of brothers. Their response is as sudden and as sure as the people of Ninevah. They commit to a person, they become his companions along the way. Jesus becomes the focus, the priority of their lives.
Focus and priority are important in life. Don’t we all marvel at the achievements of young people when a teacher or interested adult helps them to focus on music, sport or academics. They soon acquire and perfect various skills. The patron of young people, St John Bosco, would surely agree with the axiom “Mol an oige agus tiochfaidh si” – encourage the young and they will flourish. But he would go further. While the focus on skills is as admirable as it is essential young people need more. Don Bosco would hold that young people are short changed if they are not introduced to the person of Jesus and his values as their top priority in life.
To-day’s liturgy invites us all, young and old alike, to readjust our focus, to re-order our priorities. It is an invitation to recommit to the person of Jesus in a new expression of faith, prayer and generous service. May the Lord direct our faltering steps along his way.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Jonah 3:1-5,10
The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.
God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
The first two chapters of the Book of Jonah recount the prophet’s attempt to run away from the task God had set him. That is interesting since the book has only four chapters! However, the prophet was given a second chance to bring God’s mercy to the people of Nineveh. He was rescued from the sea to preach the Reign of God. In his ministry of preaching Jonah becomes a forerunner of Jesus. The difference is, of course, that Jesus willingly embraced the task while Jonah baulked. How about us? Are we more like Jonah or Jesus in responding to God? Are we ready to share with others that the reign of God is close at hand? Are we obstinate prophets? Or do we need a second or even a third chance to witness to God’s loving compassion and mercy? It is very easy for us to avoid witnessing to God’s way, especially today. Nevertheless, witness remains every Christian’s task. Try not to baulk when opportunities arise!
LORD, Adonai, Jonah was a very reluctant prophet. He did not want to do what you wanted him to do. So, he baulked and ran away. How very like him we are! But you gave Jonah a second chance and he witnessed to your mercy in Nineveh. Help us to witness to your compassion in our own days. Give us the courage to respond when you call, especially when our self-centred instincts and our stubborn hearts cry Run! Draw us back to your perfect plan every time! Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 24(25):4-6,7b-9
Jonah and Jesus are preachers of change, of frank repentance and transformed lives, especially in the Christian Churches at this time of prayer for Christian unity. For the psalmist, change means walking willingly and openly in God’s loving ways. If we humbly commit ourselves to walking in the sacred way we will begin to see divine goodness and kindness blossom in our lives. Like the poet, we too need to pray for the grace to follow God’s will, to let God’s truth guide us in deciding how we are to live our lives. How different would the world be if people were humble enough to be guided by God’s liberating justice? And therein lies the challenge for all of us who seek to follow Christ.
LORD, Adonai, how good and loving you are. You are upright, full of goodness, kind-hearted. In your goodness teach me yet again the truth of your paths and ways. In your kindness show me how to walk in your light. Save me from the allure of darkness. Let your truth hold my hand and guide my every step. Let your compassion and love touch me and transform me, especially when I go astray. Guide my actions in the world so that I may bring honour to your glorious Name. Thank you. Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Brothers: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.
In his letter Paul answers questions from the Christian community. In the two verses we read today he addresses the question of detachment from the world’s passing allure. It is important for us to remember that the world’s structures, including religious, political and economic structures, are very finite, temporary, always open to change, and frequently disappoint. Life is not all rainbows and flowers! We can see this disappointing reality very clearly in our own country in these days and in the unwillingness of world leaders to work for peace instead of power, to put the good of the planet before economics. That is why we need to reflect on Paul’s teaching. We need to put our trust in God rather than unreliable human structures, especially those that cause division. We need to constantly renew our commitments to walk in the light. We need to keep our hearts open to God’s love and compassion. That is why we need to pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come!” and so open our lives to the Holy One who is the ground of all being. May the goodness and beauty of the world lead us closer to God!
Lord Jesus, you bring every aspect of the cosmos to its true completion. Beyond you nothing is certain or constant. There is no permanency in the world we know. All is change and flux. Even time flies. Only your love is constant, your love and your compassion, your ever-present grace. Teach us how to let go of our resistance to change. Teach us how to let go of the past that we may live lives that are fully open to you in the present. Show us how to let go of everything that is not of you, not of love, not of light. Bring unity to your Church in our day. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.
Mark centres his account of Jesus’ preaching on the phrase “the kingdom of God is at hand.” It is the presence of the kingdom that teaches us what Jesus means when he calls us to repent, to rethink and change the values that orient our lives. There is more at stake here than sorrow for sins. Jesus wants radically changed, radically rethought lives. He wants lives grounded in the good news of the gospel. Rejoice! God’s plan for the cosmos is being brought to completion! Are we ready to allow that process of completion to touch us personally? Are we ready to let it impact how we choose to live? Are we ready to place Jesus at the centre of our lives as the first disciples did? Are we ready to respond to his invitation to walk with him into the living reality of God’s plan for the world? The fruits of such choices are compassionate lives that reveal God’s saving grace.
Lord Jesus, after John was taken you began your public ministry. Your message is very simple: the kingdom of God is in our midst. Rethink your lives and change your ways! Then you wrap us in grace and light. You call us to walk with you like Peter and Andrew, like James and John. You call us to share fully in your life. Show us how to walk with you each day. Teach us how to share your love. Help us heal the world with care and compassion. Remind us to treat all of creation with honesty and respect. Help us pray for Christian unity. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
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.
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.
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.