"I will make you fishers of men"
The Word for Sunday: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm
Is 8: 23-9:3
1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17
Mt 4: 12-23
We seem to constantly hear the measure of success in our national economy is the rate of employment. Whether up or down either encourages or worries us. While the number of people at work in a decent job at a respectable living wage is essential to the dignity of every person we know that fulfillment as a human being demands more than just a place to work. There is a deeper need we should answer – that for meaning and purpose - something more to follow.
Such soul searching may seem more relevant to our modern society than to the time in which Jesus lived. At that time a “job” was not something you applied for through a job interview or searched for on the internet, prepared for through a college education, or answered an ad in a paper or any other way in which one may find work today. Such a way of life was non-existent.
In the time of Jesus, work was pretty much passed down from generation to another through one’s father to his son(s). Whatever the trade was, carpentry, fishing, farming, there was no hope that you would advance to a higher level. The very desire that you would want to created suspicion. It was believed that only a limited amount of resources were available to everyone and once you had what you had, that was all there was for you. If you were wealthy, you were probably we so through dishonest means. People simply lived day to day.
So, it is likely the father of Andrew and Peter was also a fisherman. In fact the other two called by Jesus, James and John were in the boat with their father who shared in the same trade. These four were probably known around the Sea of Galilee. They had reached some level of comfort and were not particularly desperate men. They were doing what they will always do for the rest of their lives. So, their response to the Gospel event today is inspiring.
As they were fishing, a voice cried out to them from the shore: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It is Jesus gathering an action plan for the future and he invites these four to be among the first to help him implement a new vision and direction. They hear his voice and instantly drop what they are doing. We see their reaction described as “at once” and “immediately.”
Was it that swift or is this some sort of literary exaggeration used by Matthew in writing his Gospel? While they were successful in their trade, this may not have been the first time they heard of Jesus. By this time, his public ministry of preaching and healing was already known. When a man of Jesus’ reputation and charisma called to them, they eagerly wondered what he wanted of them at that moment so they did not hesitate. In fact, it was not unusual for groups to follow a learned Rabbi for some period of time; to hear his words and to learn from him.
So our Lord essentially makes an offer: Come after me. As time went on, they learned that what Jesus ultimately wanted of them was their loyalty and their commitment to his mission.
Now, Jesus’ own words: “Come after me” are unique. He wasn’t inviting them to a political party (such things did not exist) or a particular group of rebels or into a specific class of society. Nor did he offer them a new position or job.
Jesus’ request was to follow HIM. A new kind way of using their talent: I will make you fishers of men. So, a chance to be part of something much larger than themselves and all they knew to be true. So this weekend, we are reminded of the call to share in the mission of Christ, which is the mission of the Church itself. What a privilege and responsibility they and now we are given.
Our first reading from Isaiah speaks to a people in the District of the Gentiles. The large population around the Sea of Galilee was in fact not exclusively Jewish but rather a grand mix of Jew, Gentile and pagan Romans. Isaiah reminds us that upon them, a light has shown. These are the folks to the north of Jerusalem – Galilee of the Gentiles. They are the, people who walk in darkness who have now, seen a great light. So it’s curious that we see where Jesus spent so much time, walking in the midst of this eclectic people, to bring them the bright light of the good news; something new, something different, an alternative way of seeing the whole direction of their lives, the good news of God’s care for them and love expressed through the ministry of Jesus’ preaching and healing. And the personal call to metanoia – an about-face in our lives to find and live the way of Gospel values. And it is to that new way that he calls these fishermen.
These men evidently felt Jesus wasn’t suggesting a better place to fish on the Lake. Yet, a call to leave behind the familiar is never easy. To follow (come after) Jesus, to have a personal encounter with him, is to see to see the world in an alternative way. Our encounter with Jesus in the life of the Church, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in prayer, during the Mass, in the inspiration of others, and in the social issues of our day which affect the human person so deeply, should give us pause to either follow or to resist the call. These disciples were attracted to Jesus for more than advice on fishing.
So, is my Christian faith nothing more than a nice idea or something that brings me comfort in tough times or a kind of social club in which I’m surrounded by nice people? Are we attracted by the teaching of Jesus (teaching of the Church) or are we threatened by it? Does the Gospel disturb my life and what I believe about issues, cause me to be angry and to push back or do I find some hope and a better way to live through the Gospel?
For example, this weekend we remember the sad decision now in law that permits the killing of innocent human life in the womb through abortion. Do I just tolerate or worse support this and see the Church as the source of resistance or do I embrace the way of the Gospel and uphold the dignity of every human being unborn and beyond birth in all stages of human development until natural death? This may be an area in need of metanoia in my own life – a call to hear the Lord invite us to reassess our values and morals.
What does our Lord offer? This Sunday it might be good for us to consider our own personal discipleship. What does it mean for me to follow Jesus? Do I see the way of the Gospel as a cause that angers me and disturbs my peace? Or, like Peter, Andrew, James and John and so many others, can I see my need for conversion and to look to what the Gospel teaches, to embrace it and to share more fully in Jesus’ mission to be a light in darkness of this world. God calls but we must respond to his offer. That is our real job.
Almighty every-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.
(Opening Prayer for Mass)