“They abandoned their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:16).
Any study of the scriptures quickly reveals how rich and multi-layered the Word is when we engage it with openness and faith. A seemingly simple narrative unfolds in greater detail as we let our imagination enter the story. Unlike other kinds of reading, God’s Word draws us into an encounter with a living Voice, inviting us to make Jesus real in our lives.
Today’s short account of the call of the first disciples is a good example. Mark has set the stage at the start of his Gospel, so we know that Jesus has begun his public ministry announcing that the “Kingdom of God” is at hand. The phrase must have had an electric impact on his audiences. How daring of this ordinary Jewish layman, a carpenter from the hill country village of Nazareth, to talk openly about a new kingdom backed by God. The people must have wondered what King Herod and the Roman occupation thought about all of this. There is tension in the air.
Jesus’ reputation is spreading quickly in the lake country because he was a compelling story teller and was also performing miracles of healing and exorcisms. Jesus was demonstrating real power. The fishermen in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee had heard of him, and the suddenness of their response to his call suggests that Peter and Andrew, James and John, had already been influenced by Jesus.
These men are fishermen, two sets of brothers who are part of family businesses, with boats and nets, hardworking, intelligent but probably not educated, family men. They are likely young, in their 20s, not the grey-bearded figures in Christian art. Jesus is only 30.
What did Jesus see in these men that moved him to choose them to be Apostles who would one day be sent out to share the message and witness of Jesus? Their work as fishermen meant that that they lived with uncertainty, often all night out on the lake hoping to make a catch. Their skills included an ability to read the sky, weather conditions, water temperature, and to discern what was invisible beneath the surface of the lake. When the nets came alive with thrashing fish, they had to jump to the task of hauling them on board and bringing them to shore.
Here was a perfect parable for what Jesus would ask them to do as Apostles. They were to “catch” people to the Gospel message, drawing them into the boat of the church and into communities of faith. What better helpers could Jesus have than these brothers with rough, rope-scarred hands and enough patience and skill to go where the catch was and endurance to bring it into the kingdom of God?
The scriptures we read are like those small flavor-packed bouillon cubes used to make soup. Everything is there except for the hot water that, when added, will reconstitute the full broth and bring to life its aroma and taste. God provides the Word, but we have to add the hot water. It is our imagination and faith that give body to the story, for it is not just about Peter and Andrew, James and John. Today’s living Word is addressed to us and about us. Jesus is calling us to be with him in the work of sharing the Kingdom of God. This is the joy of the Gospel.