Mark tells us that Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the “good news”. His first words were “the time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand.” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus’ is the messenger promised in the Old Testament. He repeats the words of John the Baptist, “Repent and believe the good news.”
The emphasis of Mark’s gospel is that Jesus’ coming is the gospel, the “good news,” a term that occurs three times in the first fifteen verses of the gospel.
Last Sunday we heard a similar story from John and today the story continues as Mark tells us his version as Jesus calls his first disciples.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Philip and Nathanael. In today’s story he calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee -- Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.
We don’t know what there was about Jesus that led these men (and others) to leave their homes and families to follow him. Did they know him already? Or was this their first contact with him? There must have been something remarkably compelling about Jesus to cause them to follow him into an uncertain future. The astonishing thing is that they followed Jesus with no idea of where it would lead. It seems a bit rough on their families! Mark’s favorite word is “immediately” – you can catch the flavour of this in todays reading.
We know very little of the background of any of the disciples Jesus calls. The four in today’s story were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9). What did all the others do before Jesus came into their lives? We don’t know. The fishermen probably had a thriving business which they appear to have just abandoned!
As far as we can tell, the twelve people Jesus called to be his companions were ordinary men. As far as we can tell, Jesus didn’t do background checks to determine IQ levels, financial acumen, professional skills, or temple education. He picked people probably much like you and me.
His disciples were anything but perfect. More often than not they misunderstood him. They sometimes hesitated to follow him. Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. At the crucifixion they all ran away (except for John and a few women!)
But these would be the people who would continue Jesus’ work after he left -- ordinary people, like you and me. They were called and they responded.
Jesus’ first disciples were “northerners,” (no comments please! It’s no different from today – Marion and I are often teased about coming from up’north. However we are bi-lingual!!)
However, back to Israel. Jesus and his disciples came from the northern province of Galilee. Not really trusted by the more sophisticated “southerners”!
The capital of Israel was Jerusalem in the former southern kingdom, the religious center with the temple at its heart. Jesus was greeted with much skepticism when he travelled to Jerusalem from his home in Galilee with his Galilean friends. The religious leaders in Jerusalem considered them “outsiders.”
We can see this view persisting some years later with Saul, soon to be called himself to become Paul, who clearly saw the followers of Jesus as threatening the true faith of Israel.
Every one of the disciples was chosen and called personally by Jesus. Not only were they called but God calls each one of us as well.
We often speak of “God’s call” too narrowly, as if God “calls” people only into ordained ministry. We use the word “vocation”. God does call people to be priests, deacons religious sisters and brothers but God’s call is not limited to clergy. God calls every single one of us.
In times past, or “back in the Day”, the clergy were considered to be superior to the lay folk. Mostly because they were educated and most of the laity were not. Vatican II changed all that with the decree “On the Apostolate of the Laity” amongst others. God calls everybody to proclaim the “good news”. It has to be said that there are people who have not understood this yet- but we won’t go there today!
The book of Jonah, from the first reading today, is also a story about “calling,” but with ironic twists. Jonah is called to proclaim a message to people he doesn’t like -- a message he hopes will not be accepted. After trying unsuccessfully to avoid his calling, he finally arrives in Nineveh and delivers the shortest sermon in the Bible, an eight-word threat of destruction: “Only 40 days more and Nineah is going to be destroyed” (our English translation has 11 words!). To his dismay the sermon is effective. The book of Jonah ends as God makes clear to Jonah that mercy is for everyone who repents.
Jonah’s call included the message he was to deliver, but in today’s gospel the four fishermen are called with no further instructions whatsoever. They are called to a totally uncertain future and would surely have been scared out of their wits had they known what lay in store for them.
God’s call is often into an uncertain future. When we accept our call we have no idea how it will all end up. History is full of the most unlikely people having the greatest impact on human kind. Are you and I amongst those called to do the same? Let no one dare say that they are much too insignificant to have any effect on friends and family and our part of the world in which we live!