by Fr. Tommy Lane
When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John by the Sea of Galilee, and they answered Jesus’ call, they also answered a need deep within themselves (Mark 1:14-20). They had already been searching for God. This is most obvious in Andrew because as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:35-42), Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before he transferred to become a disciple of Jesus. Andrew was someone who had a desire for God. The words of Ps 42:1 come to mind, “Like a deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you my God.” Andrew filled that desire firstly by becoming a disciple of John the Baptist and after he met Jesus by becoming a disciple of Jesus.
At first, we might think that they gave up so much to follow Jesus, Peter and Andrew “abandoned their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18), James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:20). All four gave up their livelihood, fishing, and James and John with their father had hired men (Mark 1:20). They had a thriving fishing business. None of the four disciples left poverty. They left well-paying jobs. Initially we might think they gave up so much to follow Jesus and they did, but that is not the full story. Instead of thinking about what they gave up, we should think about what they gained. Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus had to use their own fishing language to help them see what they would gain. Peter caught a great catch on the first day he preached, Pentecost. Three thousand were baptized after listening to him (Acts 2:41). Later in Acts we read that people carried the sick out on to the street that Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by (Acts 5:15). We do not read anywhere in the Gospels that people did that for Jesus. Peter and the others did indeed become fishers of men. They gave up a prosperous livelihood but they gained so much more.
They were able to give up that prosperity because they were in some way already searching for God and their search for God was answered in Jesus’ call to them. Jesus’ call does not contradict our deepest desires. On the contrary, our deepest desire is the very thing to which Jesus calls us. Our deepest desire is for God. Our deepest desire and Jesus’ call to us are one and the same. We are most human when we acknowledge our deepest desire for God. If we are unaware of or do not acknowledge that our deepest human need is for God then our life is without meaning. Then life is like what Shakespeare’s Macbeth described,
“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth Act V, Scene V, 23-28)
What Macbeth needed was to know that there is an Other, God, who gives meaning to our life. In the words of Fr. Luigi Giussani, “It is an Other who takes initiative in our life, thus it is an Other who saves our life, leads it to the knowledge of truth, leads it to affection for what is true, leads it to love for reality.” (In cammino pp.193-195.)
It is a sadness not to know the meaning of life like Macbeth but there is also another sadness, to know God’s call but not answer it and flee from it. That is what happened in the story about Jonah. In the first reading today (Jon 3:1-5,10) we heard God calling Jonah and Jonah answering and going to preach in Nineveh. However, that was the second time God called Jonah because Jonah refused to answer the first time God called. When God called the first time, Jonah fled in a ship as far away as he could but ended up in the belly of a whale. The poor whale got sick of Jonah who would not answer God’s call; the whale could not stomach him anymore and threw him up! Jonah’s life certainly went better when he answered God’s call the second time round. The prophet Jeremiah was also tempted not to preach the word of God because every time he preached people were angry with him. However, he realized not preaching the word of God would not make him happy,
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in,
I cannot endure it. (Jer 20:9)
Answering Jesus’ call does not contradict our deepest desires. On the contrary, our deepest desire is the very thing to which Jesus calls us. When we have Jesus in our life how different it is. Pope Francis in a letter to an Italian atheistic journalist wrote,
“For me, faith was born of an encounter with Jesus. It was a personal encounter that touched my heart and gave new direction and meaning to my life. It is not something external or imposed, but rather that which comes from within and is self-evident. Jesus, in fact, impacts us, shocks us, and renews us.” (Pope Francis, Letter to a Non-Believer, September 4, 2013)
Those who answer Jesus’ call know the meaning of Ps 84:10, one day within the temple of the Lord is better than a thousand elsewhere. Jesus does not just call us once and leave us. Jesus calls us again and again, is ever present to us, ever calling us to what is greater, ever calling us to what is new and better. Origen, in one of his homilies on the Book of Numbers wrote:
“Those who make their journey on the road to seek God’s wisdom do not build permanent homes but mobile tents, for they are in constant movement covering new ground, and the further they go, the more the road that lies ahead of them opens up, presenting a horizon lost in immensity” (Homily XVII on Numbers, quoted by Pope John Paul II, Wednesday Audience, January 16, 2002.)
To use the words of Fr. Luigi Giussani again, “this Other who intervenes catches me in every moment, catches me again and again, re-launches me, and will complete the work He began: He enables us reach our destiny.” (In cammino pp.193-195.)
When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John by the Sea of Galilee, and they answered Jesus’ call, they also answered a need deep within themselves. They were able to give up prosperity because they were searching for God and their search for God was answered in Jesus’ call to them. Jesus’ call does not contradict our deepest desires. On the contrary, our deepest desire is the very thing to which Jesus calls us. We are most human when we acknowledge our deepest desire for God. Peter and Andrew “abandoned their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18), James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:20) and Jesus enabled them to reach their destiny.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015
More homilies for the Third Sunday Year B
Related Homilies: Homilies on Vocation
on the call to repent see God Continues to Call Us to Bear Fruit