Jan 20, 2012

3rd Sunday: From fish to men

"Come after me . . ."

The Word for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012212.cfm
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
1 Cor 7: 29-31
Mk 1: 14-20

The recent death of the alleged charismatic leader of north Korea was a moment for the world to reflect on the power of mass control.  In the past twentieth century we have seen brutal dictators rise and fall:  Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and in our recent time, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and other still present day leaders who rule by force and fear.  A personality cult is created around them, they are presented as benevolent, people follow and hope for a better life but in the end these leaders perish.  Power can be used or abused.
In his time on earth, there certainly seems to have been some elements of a personality cult created around Jesus.  But it was not false propaganda contrived by some media writers. The excitement of the crowds who witnessed the power Jesus displayed  brought on the adulation.  Yet, our Lord time and again deflected the hoop-la and always came back to the essential core of his mission on earth – “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:14 ff).  

The familiar scene of the call of the first disciples along the Sea of Galilee is presented to these chosen few: Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John.  By this call along the Sea, Jesus began to lay the foundation of his Church.  In the person of these first among the twelve Apostles, we see how the mission of Evangelization will begin in the ministry of these men and through them out to the world. I think it is significant that the first call comes in the midst of water.
Just as John the Baptist cried out along the Jordan River, Jesus also calls by water.  By a much larger body of water we hear the proclamation, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Like the prophet Jonah in our first reading, who warned the people of Nineveh to repent, Jesus carries on in the spirit of the prophets.  Like the prophets he calls to a change of heart but unlike the prophets, he speaks on his own authority. He calls everyone to turn their lives around and face a new direction. To let go of some things so that something new can begin.  

Yet, this world presents so many wonderful things.  The beauty of nature, amazing technology, good friends, education, a nice home in which to live, and many opportunities to enjoy what this life offers us.  But, the essential call to conversion, which is the basic meaning of “repentance”, is to re-direct our lives.  To turn around in a new direction so that I can see the difference between the joys of this life and the greater promise of what faith offers. 
Secondly, Jesus’ call by water was offered in the middle of what these men did in their day to day tasks of fishing. In this part of the ancient world fishing was a main occupation.  Most people seldom ate meat and thrived on fish.  The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that in his day more than 300 fishing boats were out on the Sea of Galilee searching for a catch.  Jesus certainly saw that but singled out these particular men from their everyday task.  To now go from fish to men.   

The call, therefore, seems to begin as an individual invitation that later becomes a general mission.  Our call too comes by water. In Baptism we are individually named but sent out as agents of Christ and his good news that is offered to everyone.  A promise that is universal but in particular for the disadvantaged; the poor and “little ones.” We are called to share in a special concern for the common good of society which always includes the dignity of every human person and justice for the poor is at the heart of Catholic social teaching.     
Third, Jesus’ invitation to “Come after me . . .,” carries with it a call of loyalty to Christ.  More today than ever, we see the importance of presenting our faith in a way that is genuine and offers to society a higher level of morality that follows the natural law and is built upon the dignity of every human person, on religious liberty and respect for a conscience formed by Gospel values.  There is no doubt that defending these issues is among the greatest concern of the Church today but we are called to be loyal to what Jesus has revealed to us.

In light of our Gospel, it might be good for us all to examine not only the call of the Lord in our lives but more importantly, how we have responded.  Whether we were baptized as infants and have no conscious memory of that moment, only pictures, or came to the faith later in life, we have been formed in the faith of the Gospel and the life of our Church community.  
Maybe our lives have been exponentially graced by God over the years and we now feel very much as a follower of Jesus.  More likely, the journey of life has taken us through moments of intimacy with our faith in the Church and other times of wandering.  His voice still calls to us, “Come after me . . .”

In our first reading we hear of Jonah and his call to preach to the sinful population of Ninevah.  Like the first disciples, he goes and does what God asks of him.  How does hearing that call make you feel?  Am I willing to drop my nets and follow or do I try to negotiate a little more time? What sort of voice can I bring to the world which seems overly hostile or indifferent to people of faith?
Our Eucharist is an invitation and a gift to celebrate our unity with one another and with Christ as one body of believers but it never stops here.  From here we go to “announce the gospel of the Lord.”

Almighty and ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect 3rd Sunday, Ordinary Time)