Fishers of Men - Domenico Ghirladalo 1481
Is 8: 23-9:3-11 Cor 1: 10-13,17
Mt 4: 12-23
Fishing is either a hobby for some who spend quiet days on lakes and rivers or a lifestyle for others. Those who risk treacherous seas off the coast of Alaska to find the tastiest halibut or something more exotic like swordfish (a delicious favorite of mine) found off more temperate or tropical waters or some other species of fish, the work is hard and messy.
The call of the first Apostles Simon, Andrew, James and John may have seemed at first blush a bit inopportune. The day was likely hot and dry, the sun was shining. These four men, pairs of brothers, are hard at work doing what they know best – fishing. And, as is not unusual, they caught little to nothing. They were likely tired and sweaty. They had about them an unpleasant body odor of the sea.
Yet, maybe it was divine inspiration that touched their hearts when Jesus called from the shore: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” An unusual turn of phrase but something about it sounded attractive. In fact, these brothers may have thought, “Enough with these fish. Someone else can take of that for now. Let’s find out what he’s talking about – fishers of men?” While we’ll never know what was in the mind of these future disciples, it is clear they did not hesitate.
Saint Matthew uses the words: “at once” and “immediately they left.” One set of brothers was in the midst of “casting a net into the sea” and the other set were “mending their nets.”
God’s call does not always come at the most convenient or opportune moment. Couldn’t Jesus had waited just a few minutes more to call them? Why now and not later? The mission of Christ was something that needed immediate attention. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus cries out. The preaching of Jesus and the necessity to round up a band of brothers, those called to share in the intimate and singular ministry of the God-man among us, could not wait for second thoughts.
Jesus calling of disciples was not an unusual occurrence. Those who had some sort of grievance or issue about which they cared deeply would often invite others into their world to help them organize and press the issue. Likely, these four fishermen sensed that Jesus was one who had some cause and needed to organize a band of followers.
So, they followed him to hear what he had to say. Little did they know what they were getting in to in those first days. One thing that was obvious, though, was that this loosely organized group of disciples would take some time to gel and come to a common understanding of who Jesus was and what his mission would accomplish. One thing was certain, nothing would happen without their assistance – they needed to be united.
Today’s second reading from the letter to the Corinthians shows us the problem that St. Paul needed to address among the early Christians. The Gospel message, begun through the preaching, miracles, the death and resurrection of Christ had found in the lives of the early Corinthian Church anything but a united reception. The danger of factions rose among them and St. Paul pounced on it forcefully.
Rather than loyalty to Christ and the Gospel Paul brought to them, they’ve broken into cliques with allegience to Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ. When Jesus called the Apostles, he hoped they would remain single focused – on Jesus and his message. Paul knew the Spirit intended the same for the early Church. And, the same Spirit wishes nothing less from us.
In light of the Corinthian experience and as those who have been called by Christ in our Baptism, we have a responsibility to work towards unity. Like the early Christians, many issues in the Church today have the potential to divide us into various loyalties: the pro-life causes, conservative and liberal, the place of the Pope and the Bishops, the role of women in the Church, views of what the Church should look like and who should lead, whether to celebrate Mass in English only or to add Latin, the place of our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters in an Anglo community, who’s in and who is out, and that’s just the short list!
But, Jesus has called us to follow him. There’s a saying that goes, “Ministry is messy.” Life can often be messy but we have the confidence of faith to know that God is with us in the mess.
Our celebration of the Eucharist and the truth of the Word of God assure us that God abides with us. The Eucharist is Christ truly in our midst calling us to follow his lead and how we come to know that will through the faith community of the Church.
How willing am I to drop what I’m doing and respond or do I insist that I must first hold on to my own agenda, finish mending my nets, get my “stuff” in proper order, say good bye, lock the doors, feed the dog, and double check everything as I keep the Lord waiting?