Jonah 3, 1-5, 10 + Psalm 25 + 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31 + Mark 1, 14-20
For each of the evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first words Jesus says set the theme for that Gospel. Last week we heard the first spoken words according to John: “What are you looking for?” That question weaves its way in and out of all the episodes of John’s Gospel. Today the first spoken words of Mark’s Gospel are set before us: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the good news!” Once Mark sets this theme that we are living in the time of fulfillment, that God’s reign is beginning, and that our response to this is believing and therefore reforming our lives, Jesus goes to work.
All four disciples are called at once. There is sense of immediacy and urgency that flows through Mark’s Gospel. Hurry up is the mood. Immediate is the response. They put down everything and knowing nothing about where they were going or what this was all about, they followed Jesus. They did not follow an ideology or program. There was no agenda or plan. There was a person. All of this discipleship is personal and relational.
On the other hand, it is important to understand what Jesus is doing. He is not calling them to be priests or bishops. He is calling them to be disciples and then, as the story unfolds, he will send them out in his place with the same message. So there is no reading or listening to this story as an observer. This is not about Peter, James, Andrew and John. It is about everyone who hears the call of Jesus as an invitation to play a part in establishing the reign of God on this earth. What makes this news that we are living in the final and sacred time of God’s reign believable is the change in their lives; a sign of repentance.
The outward sign that those four men repented or changed their value systems is when they put people instead of fish as the center of their lives. That is unmistakable repentance. People now come first; not their jobs, not their possessions (nets and boats) not the old predictable way of life, people now come first as Jesus will show them along the way.
If it was so then, so it is now. Every single one of us has experienced a call to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have no idea where it will lead us, and what it will ask of us. We do know that repentance is required of those who will live in this time of fulfillment in the presence of and in the reign of God. We know that nothing else can come first except people because the relationship we have with Jesus Christ is lived and celebrated within the people he has called his own. Discipleship with Jesus Christ which is our call, it demands an immediate response, a willingness to abandon old ways, old values, expectations, and ways of looking even at ourselves.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John left what they knew to live differently. That is the choice facing every one of us God calls. We all have nets. The nets of this world and the things we are used to. They keep us from becoming true followers of Christ. They are the kind of nets in which we are entangled. Sin can be a net; cynicism, self-interest and greed. There are nets of racism, addiction, anger, despair and indifference. We get trapped in nets of mediocrity just getting by. But the call of Christ insists that we look deeply at our own habits and our own hearts. If it looks like too much of a challenge, there is one important detail to remember: we are not alone. When Jesus called those fishermen, they didn’t leave the lives they knew on their own. They went in pairs: Simon and Andrew, James and John.
The beautiful message is this: being a follower of Christ is not a solitary act. Being a Christian involves another, many others, in fact. The early Christians understood that; it was about celebrating Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in community and in communion. They prayed together. They shared the Eucharist together. They traveled together. They preached together. They were persecuted and martyred together too. In community, they found strength during times of great joy and great suffering. It is not different today.
Twenty centuries later, we continue what they began. That first call of the fishermen, two by two, has echoed around the world. Believers gather, in community, to share our love for God, our love for one another, and our passion for the Gospel message. We proclaim what we believe. We lift our eyes to a miracle: God in a piece of elevated bread that when consumed forms a Holy People. The body of Christ is uplifted, and so are we. But it will be meaningless if we just go home and go on with our lives. Like Simon and Andrew and James and John, we are called to leave our old ways of doing things, our familiar and comfortable ways of living. Ultimately, we are called to walk away and follow him. It is a call to sacrifice, to surrender, to trust, and change. The kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus proclaimed. It can be ours. But first, we need to abandon our nets and reform our lives.