In today’s Gospel we are still at the beginnings of Jesus’ public life. Last week we heard the Gospel of John; this week we hear the Gospel of Mark who will be our main guide for the Sundays of this year. Last week, Jesus was in the Jordan valley, around John the Baptist, and he was meeting and making his first disciples, “click and collect”. Today he is back in his own territory, in the north, near Lake Galilee. Last week, we heard his first words in the Gospel of John: “what are you looking for…come and see.” Today we hear his first words in the Gospel of Mark: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (the Good News)”. The kingdom of God here isn’t a space, a territory (the GK rather than the UK). It is an event. God is fulfilling the ancient Jewish expectations by coming to rule, to reign, to invite human beings into a new relationship with him and with each other. This is Gospel, Good News. At last… The kingdom of God is the forgiveness of sins and a life of faith, hope and love. It’s first of all a happening. It’s a new possibility. It’s also a person, Jesus himself. And when he says, “Repent and believe”, he means: wake up to what my Father is doing, don’t let your ordinary preoccupations and the daily grind or pursuit of pleasure or plenty or power stop you seeing this. It’s as if he’s saying, look the bus is finally coming; catch it; get on board. What the prophets and the Baptist were pointing to is here.
And what Jesus does next is striking. In the first reading, we hear about Jonah. It’s a familiar story – the belly of the whale and all that. It’s comic and dramatic. Jonah, please note, does it alone. Jonah, the reluctant messenger, goes alone to the vast city of Nineveh and tells them to repent (and they do). He is a soloist and he pulls it off. But in the Gospels, Jesus isn’t a soloist. As last Sunday, he immediately co-opts others. Today, he meets his friends again, back home in Galilee, and calls them again, and this time more definitively. They leave their nets. They leave Zebedee and Co. and sign up for Jesus and Co. Here are the first four board members: Simon and Andrew, James and John. In the next chapter, a fifth is taken on, Levi, also known as Matthew, and by Chapter 3 we’re up to 12 and the Round Table or the Fellowship of the Ring is complete. It’s the first circle. Forming around it too is a wider group, the shareholders, so to speak: people who don’t leave their families and jobs, but are still committed to the new Enterprise. They’re believers and disciples. The Church is taking shape before our eyes.
There’s a freshness and energy here. This is spring time, falling in love time. It’s meant to engage us.
Let’s recall the basics: Jesus calls 12 disciples to be apostles, to be his associates and share in his mission. After his Resurrection and with the wind of Pentecost in their sails, they go out into the wider world. They preached the Gospel and established the first Christian communities. They appointed leaders to succeed them, who came to be called bishops. Bishops appointed successors in their turn, and ordained collaborators (priests), and assistants (deacons). This is, as it were, how the divine vaccine is officially rolled out through time, God’s healing grace inoculating us against the deadly virus of sin (with its many variants). So the Christian community is built up. But in this Community, though not everyone is a leader, everyone is active. Every believer is a shareholder. We all receive, but we are also all contributors, transmitters (not of disease, but of health). We are all key workers. We are all given fish to fish and sheep to shepherd and vines to grow. Bishops, priests and deacons are empowered to lead and guide by the Sacrament of Ordination, but by the Sacraments of baptism and confirmation all of us are empowered to active Christianity. For nigh on a hundred years, the Popes have been saying this again and again, and you may have heard it now and then from this Cathedral.
And this all began by the Lake of Galilee with four fishermen.
That they were fishermen is another surprise. Definitely four, possibly seven of the original twelve were fishermen (cf. John 21). There are many vocation stories in the Old Testament, but never of a fisherman. Samuel was an acolyte in the Temple, David a shepherd, Isaiah a courtier, Ezekiel a priest, Amos a shepherd and a tender of fig trees. Jonah certainly wasn’t a fisherman! Nor was Jesus. He lived in Nazareth, an inland village. He worked in the construction industry. But he didn’t choose any of his colleagues from work. Neither did he choose any member of his extended family (except possibly one). Instead, he goes to Peterhead, as it were, and enlists fishermen and describes their new mission as another kind of fishing.
Why? Is there a message for us? Every job calls for certain qualities. Fishing, it has been suggested, needs three. First, courage, for the sea is a dangerous place. Second, cooperation. Fishermen work together: they’re part of a crew. It’s stick together or drown. And third, a sense of grace. Fishermen are not in control. Who knows where the fish are, whether they’ll catch anything or nothing. “We have toiled all night and caught nothing”. It’s all in other hands than theirs. So, courage, togetherness, trust in God. Disciples need that.
Once again St Paul, coming in from the left field in the 2nd reading, can help us get the point. He’s talking to Christians who are clearly living ordinary, married, working lives. But “the time is short”, Paul says. Don’t get over-engrossed. This won’t last for ever. It’s good to find a partner for life and take on the great task of raising a family together. It’s good to find a line of work, and be in useful, gainful employment. These things give meaning to our lives. But “the time is short”; they leave something in us still waiting. “The time is short” and “the time is fulfilled”. The Kingdom is underway. There’s another family, another enterprise to be part of too. It can look rather rocky, but it won’t dissolve, it won’t leave us unemployed. There’s always scope for faith, for hope, for love. Prayer is never redundant. And today Jesus walks by the sea, and says, “My Kingdom needs you.”
Once again, brothers and sisters, isn’t this so, so worth being part of?