Today is the first day of the first week of what some Christian Churches call “Ordinary Time” – which might be construed as what the world is like after all the Christmas hubbub is over and the best of the merchandise is gone from the stores. Actually though, it is really nothing like that unless we look at the baptism of Jesus which we celebrated yesterday as an end rather than a beginning. “Ordinary” in Church-speak doesn’t mean the opposite of extraordinary. It comes from a Latin word, ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series and from which we get the word order, thus indicating the ordered life of the Church between the major seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. It might be akin to “It’s three weeks till school is out for the summer” but doesn’t mean that there won’t be great things learned in the interim.
Today then, we begin with chapter one of the Gospel of Mark which tells us that John the Baptist has been arrested (a story for another day) and Jesus has begun walking about preaching. It’s often frustrating that the gospels aren’t more forthcoming with details about the events. Today, for example, has this news.
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked on a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him. (MK1:16-20)
Doesn’t it make you wonder if there was any conversation in between the summons of Jesus and the responses of the fishermen? I know it wouldn’t be very economical to have all the detail (the Bible is already a very big book!) and the stories were not written down until much later, Mark’s being the first gospel that didn’t appear until sometime in the 50’s or 60’s. I wonder, though, about what appears to be an impulsive decision. I have many questions. Had they heard about Jesus before they saw him? Were they unhappy as fishermen – some of whom at least – and probably all – in the family business? What did Zebedee think about all this?? How old were they anyway? Was the presence of Jesus so compelling that it was impossible for them to refuse? Didn’t they ask him any questions about what “fishers of men” might mean?
You get my point, I’m sure. Unfortunately, we don’t have more to go on from the text. Theologians have written much through the history of Christianity about the events that we find in the gospels as well as the meaning of the words that actually appear. We can only know so much of the truth of this scenario, but we would do well, I think, to reflect on our own history of response to Christ’s invitations in our life. I know that when I entered the convent at 18 years of age, I had a strong desire to give my life to God but I had little understanding (regardless of how sure I felt) of what would be called for as I lived the life. I think this is true of most people, even if not circumstantially the same. Those who “go into the family business” might have a clearer idea at the start but the world continues to change at such a rapid pace that there is little clarity about the future these days. The evidence of the gospels tells us that most of those chosen in those early days as the closest followers of Jesus – the ones who are named anyway – failed him occasionally along the way but were able to forgive themselves and be forgiven so as to remain faithful to their commitment to the end of their lives. And I’m sure they understood then what that meant in a way that they could not even have imagined that day on the beach.