The Gospel According to Mark:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Mark 1:14-20 (NKJV)
The sun was just coming up and the fog was floating gently over the shore and the sea. It was early in the morning. Few people were out and about at that hour, and the only people really active that early in the morning were the bone-tired fishermen who were just finishing another hard night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. In one boat, two brothers stand while they cast their nets into the sea and drag them back into the boat, hoping to catch a few more fish to send to market. In another boat nearby, two brothers from a different family sit while they mend their nets, preparing them for the next night of fishing, in the hope that tomorrow night’s haul will be just a little bit better.
Their long night of work coming to an end, all the men are anxious to get their catch to market and then go home to get some badly needed rest. But, as they finish their morning chores that morning, a man walks along the shore, just coming into view through the fog. He speaks: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” They drop their nets, and follow. He calls out to the men in the boats, and again says, “Follow me.” They, too, drop their nets, and follow…
Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropped what they were doing, left the life they knew and perhaps loved, to follow Jesus. Isn’t that what we, as Dominicans, as Christians, are called to do? What a life-changing experience! The first four disciples stepped out in faith, not really knowing what they were doing or where they were going, to live their lives in a new way, no longer as fishermen, but fishers of men. Were they ready for that? No. When Jesus called them, he used the future tense: I WILL make you fishers of men. Like us when we first become Christians, or Dominicans for that matter, we are not always ready for the tasks that God has set before us.
The fishermen of that time were poor, uneducated, common laborers, and not very high on the social ladder. Yet Jesus chose them to do great things. They weren’t ready to be great preachers, great writers, or great churchmen, but God is not bound by who we are. Jesus looked beyond what and who they were to what they would become. The important principle at work here is that those whom Christ has called He enables and empowers to perform the task to which they have been assigned. Jesus did not simply command His disciples to become fishers of men but he promised to MAKE them fishers of men. As Saint Basil has taught us, it is “not what thou art, now what thou hast been, but what thou wouldst be.”
So how do we get to that point? How do we get to the place where we are ready to become “fishers of men?” And how do we know when we’re ready? Like James and John, we must mend our nets, and prepare ourselves to be fishers of men. Most of us never feel that we’re ready enough, or good enough, to consider ourselves ready to be fishers of men, but our father, Saint Dominic, laid down in his rule how to continually prepare for that role by way of two of the four pillars of the Dominican Charism: those of prayer and study. In Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he teaches us that we are to “pray without ceasing.” (1Thessalonians 5:1). Prayer is communion with God. Those who know God best are those who spend quality time in God’s presence. These are people who know the secrets and the heartbeat of God. It is not possible to know God when we are occasional visitors into God’s presence. It is not possible to know God if we are the type of Christian who just pops in to God’s presence to say “hi” and “goodbye”. We cannot get to know God if we are the type of Christians who treat God as “fire extinguisher”- who just run to God to put out our fires and solve our problems. God reveals Himself to those who really care; to those who are willing to the pay the price of separating themselves often and long from their workaday world in order to seek Him. “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13 (NIV)
Further, through our studies, we learn how to live as Christians, and how God might work through, and be seen in, us. The Psalmist declared, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119:11 (NIV). He understood the importance of studying and knowing God’s word so that he could live according to God’s will and perfect plan. God has revealed Himself to us through the Bible, and calls us to read and know ALL that He has said. In 1 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul emphasizes to Timothy the importance of staying the course, continuing in what he knows, believes and lives, for it is God alone who provided divine revelation to the writers of the scriptures and the teachers in which Timothy followed. True learning comes from God’s perfect word, the Bible, and must not be abandoned nor seldom looked into; it provides guidance and encouragement regarding eternal life and, more importantly, offers a glimpse to the reader of the magnificence and majesty of God.
Finally, that people may see a difference in our lives, and in order to cast our nets and to start “fishing for men,” we should reflect such a joy and hope in our lives that others will ask about it, opening the door for us to share the Gospel. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Christianity, our faith and our witness, is defined in the eyes of the world by our actions, our attitudes, what we say, and how we say it, as well as the good works that we do.
And so I ask you, are your nets mended? Have you prepared yourself to be a fisher of men? What must YOU do in order to simply the call to “Follow me.”? Let us all continue to prepare ourselves that we may ever cast our nets for our Lord. Amen.