Reading I: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm: 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (4a)
Reading II: 1 Cor 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
“This is the time of fulfillment” (Mark 1:15)
“Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” This famous prayer of St. Augustine well captures the reluctance that most of us have to changing our ways. Yet we hear the exact opposite when the Ninevites instantly repent at Jonah’s preaching and the fishermen immediately leave their nets to follow Jesus. There is an urgency with regard to the time, and a total response is needed. In Ordinary Time in the liturgical year, it may seem more natural to settle into the ordinary ways in which we have been living out our discipleship. Instead, we are urged to recognize that a new time presses upon us, requiring different responses from before. There is nothing ordinary about the invitation to follow Jesus more radically in this urgent time.
Paul, thinking the parousia was right over the horizon, insists that time is running out and that our usual way of doing things will no longer serve. Similarly, Jonah prophesies to Nineveh that their destruction is imminent. When we think the end is near, we lose some of our inertia toward change. Today we hear this kind of urgency from those who study climate change, or the causes of poverty, food shortages, war, and epidemics. To turn around these global ills, requires profound turning around our patterns of living. Still, we find ourselves reluctant, praying with St. Augustine, “yes, but not yet.”
In Mark 1:14-20 the response of the fishermen is instant. These adroit fishermen immediately accept Jesus’ invitation to use their skills to “fish for people.” They are savvy businessmen, who have hired workers, and who likely moved their enterprise to Capernaum for a tax break (John 1:44 says that Peter and Andrew were originally from Bethsaida, under the administration of Herod Philip, whereas Capernaum was in the territory of Herod Antipas). Abandoning their nets is a way of speaking of what must be left behind when one embraces radical discipleship. The fishermen do not leave their family, as the next episodes in the Gospel show. Rather, Jesus becomes part of their family, making Capernaum his home (Mark 2:1), and the disciples become Jesus’ new family, re-orienting all relationships.
There are also many women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, and many others, who become part of Jesus’ family of disciples. While the evangelists do not preserve the story of their call, all agree that these women had been following Jesus and ministering with him when he was in Galilee, and continued to do so all the way to the cross (Mark 15:40). The cost of such a radical response to Jesus is already in view when Mark prefaces the call of the first disciples with the notice that John had been arrested. But like impulsive lovers who commit themselves to one another while still wrapped in their initial infatuation with each other, it is a compelling love that causes disciples to follow Jesus instantly. Just as a couple grows into love, and learns the costly self-surrender it takes to make that love continue to flourish, so too disciples learn the deeper conversion demanded as they grow in their radical love affair with the Holy One. It is then not so much the threat of destruction that moves us to convert our ways, but an irresistible love that turns our hearts.
Previously published in Barbara E. Reid, OP, Abiding Word. Sunday Reflections for Year B. Liturgical Press, 2011.
Sr. Barbara Reid, OP
President of Catholic Theological Union