SERMON – Epiphany III
January 22, 2012
+In the Name…
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (St. Mark 1:17-18).
Last Sunday, we heard in the Gospel according to St. John the story of Andrew and Simon Peter coming to Jesus. You will remember that after Andrew had spent an evening with Jesus, the next morning he went first to get his brother Simon to bring him to the Lord.
Today, we hear from the Gospel according to St. Mark his rendition of Jesus calling Andrew and Simon Peter to apostleship, and James and John as well. This demonstrates to us that as we hear and receive the Word of God, we are not to be literalists. I say this in no way whatsoever to diminish biblical authority. But we must always hold at least two things before us: 1. Is that the Gospels give the Truth of an event in different ways or from different perspectives, but what is given to us is a consistent Truth; 2. We need the larger Church (the teaching authority of the Catholic Church known as its Magisterium) to interpret the Truth - to prevent us from latching onto a particular passage, or from private judgment. Now let me return to what we have before us today.
All four men were professional fishermen by trade. A vocation (in all times and places) that is hard and demanding, both mentally and physically.
Jesus, from the moment He assumed His earthly ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing, after He had spent forty days and nights in the wilderness praying and fasting, began to gather the apostolic band around Him. Jesus would enlarge it to twelve men, who would live with Him, travel with Him, and learn from Him in anticipation of the day when eleven of them would carry on what He began.
In this, we see that Jesus was not a solo pilot, and that He viewed the truth and salvation He brought and authored through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection as something communal. He was teaching that God the Father’s will was that “life together” (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled one of his books) was of the essence of life in Him and for Him.
The Church came to birth at Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles to empower them to manifest Christ to the world. Early on in the Book of Acts, St. Luke writes of the early Church’s communal life and reality: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47). At its beginning, the Church was very much a communal reality centered in the Eucharist.
To build this apostolic community, built upon those whom the Lord chose to call, notice that He called them in and from what they were doing. Four fishermen were doing what fishermen did in their vocation as fishermen. Peter and Andrew were casting their nets; James and John were mending their nets. Jesus called them at these points to follow Him. In other words, He called them to drop what they were doing and to do something different, but something that would employ what their life and vocation was about. They were fishermen, and Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus calls the first four of His Apostles from and in the midst of their primary human activity. He doesn’t call them while they’re resting, sleeping, or worshipping. He calls them to something new and different, but connected to who they are and what they’re about, in the very midst of their activity.
What I see in this is the theology of the Incarnation. The Word has become flesh and dwells among us in the very midst of the down and dirty, the mundane, the repetitive, and often so tiring and draining places of our lives – the “what we need to do” areas, the “what we wish so many times we didn’t have to do” areas of our lives. We many times find ourselves trudging through life, but even when we are trudging, we are to walk with a purpose, and that purpose is to serve the Lord, knowing, as St. Paul wrote that when we are “always abounding in the work of the Lord,” our “labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58). Our labor in and for the Lord does bear fruit, even if we do not see the fruit being borne. The Lord’s way of using our labors is so often not of our timing, or of our expectation. He takes what we give and uses it as He chooses.
Into these time and places of just doing what we are to do as Christians, He who fully assumed our human nature, He who emptied himself of all divine prerogatives in His holy Incarnation, desires His voice and presence is to be heard and known so that what we’re doing is transformed in order that we do things differently – for higher purposes, and in order to find a joy in what we’re doing, which if someone said we could be joyful about, we would have laughed or said, “Oh, sure,” Not in the least,” “Never.”
St Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that, “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7).
From the lips of the risen and glorified Lord of heaven and earth in the Book of Revelation, St. John the Divine heard Him say, “Behold, I make all things new.” It is newness that He brings to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Each and every day presents the opportunity to hear and see things differently, in the newness of Christ – whose will it is that we have life, and life in abundance. He wants us to see and hear what is true, what is good about our selves and each other. He wants us to see life with His eyes and to see each other with His eyes – to see life as good, and with possibilities for more good, and to relate to each other with love, knowing that He calls us to love more.
When Jesus called the first four Apostles to Him, His call was so clearly definitive to them in their spirits that they walked way from the old to the new. They walked by faith and not by sight. They dropped old nets on one hand, and left the known of their boat and their father on to embrace new nets, and a new boat for the journey forward, with their loyalties the same as His – to the Father Who sent Him into the world to send them into the world.
In the Christian life, there is no place for holding on to what is familiar and secure. The only place for the familiar and the secure to be present is within the liturgy of the Church – where we find our rooting and participation in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which paradoxically is to launch us out into the unknown of faith and works with Jesus who promises always to be present with us always. A journey of new heights and new depths as God works for good to those who love the Lord.
Isn’t this so profoundly said in the gradual hymn we have sung this morning: “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing – the marvelous peace of God” (Hymn 437, 4th stanza).
For these men called to be Apostles of Jesus, the call was for them to leave what they were doing, and with whom they were doing it, to follow Jesus into something radically new. It was their leaving the present to find a new present, a future and a hope; and to find “the marvelous peace of God.”
They would be filled by Jesus the Vine with new wine. And they would learn with pain and difficulty with loads of questions, and with the need for their Lord to chastise them at times so that they would think differently about themselves and about nearly everything, so that the new wine that Jesus poured out would be poured into new wineskins. They needed to be made new to receive the new, new wine into fresh wineskins. It was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that brought this fully about.
For you and me, we need to have our ears open to the call of Jesus, and to feel Him knocking at the doors of our hearts. We should be expectant of the prompting, inspiration, and guidance of the Holy Spirit, if we’re striving to stay close to Him and are marked by a “thy will be done” desire and disposition. We will not hear His voice and be open to the Holy Spirit if we’re self-consumed, self-absorbed, and prisoners to our selves – trying to be in control and trying to control things and others.
So a disciplined prayer life, a life of consistent communication to God, and He with us, is required. A mindset needs to be present that echoes our acceptance of what was said in the Book of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:5-6).
When we’re in difficult and trying situations, complex and threatening situations, times when it’s so easy to let the ways of the flesh rule over the ways of the Spirit, we need to take a breath and remember as St. Paul taught the Christians in Galatia: “…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would” (5:17).
He then lists what he knows to be the works of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit” (5:19-21). He then teaches them and us what the fruit of the Spirit is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). He adds that, “…those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).
A tall order, but attainable by the power of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, when we ask for its guidance and direction daily, and in the heat and challenge of the moment.
I would add what St. Paul teaches us about the possession of a godly mindset and disposition, and focus: “…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is an excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Despite our sins and shortcoming, despite the way we fail and offend Jesus and others, our Lord looks upon us with the eyes of love and sees the good in us. He gives us the grace to see our own good, and the good of and in others, and calls us to incarnate the goodness of Him as we relate to others.
Our Lord said that He gives us peace as the world cannot give – peace that we cannot manufacture and pretend to have. It is His gift to those who stand open and ready to hear His voice and to feel His knock upon the doors of our hearts. In such hearing and feeling, we speak as He wills us to speak; feel as He wills us to feel; love as He wills us to love; and serve as He wills us to serve, as we move progressively to that spiritual place where St. Paul went, the place where he was able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20).
+In the Name…