Fishers or Sinners
Homily for January 21, 2018 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
The calling of the first disciples is one of the few stories that can be found in one form or another in all four Gospels. Last week we heard John’s version where Andrew and John were followers of St. John the Baptist and he pointed Jesus out to them, which led Andrew to bring his brother Simon Peter to Jesus; in Luke’s version there is a detailed interaction between Simon Peter and Jesus, with Jesus getting into Peter’s boat with him and Peter experiencing the miraculous catch of fish. Both Matthew’s version and today’s version from Mark are briefer; Jesus merely says to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” and they immediately drop everything and follow him.
Why is this calling so important that all four Gospels include a version of it? Last week Fr. Szatkowski talked about the call to religious vocations, and indeed, with the call of our first Pope, St. Peter, that indeed is a significant message to us all, especially to the young men and women who are considering life as a priest or a member of a religious community. But Jesus’ call is more than just a summons to future clergy and religious. He is summoning each of us to become “fishers of men.”
I want to tell you a little story. Fifteen years ago this month I made my first mission trip to Honduras and the Sunday Gospel was about this call. Three years later, I went back and again, the Sunday Gospel was a version of this story. Who knows? Maybe that’s why I became a deacon?
In any case, on the first trip I was traveling with a priest friend of mine who, fortunately, spoke better Spanish than I did. Better, but not perfect. You see, he presided at the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel, and when he got to the part where Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men", which in Spanish is "Síganme y haré de ustedes pescadores de hombres" (forgive my Spanish), he said, "Síganme y haré de ustedes pecadores de hombres", which in English would be "Come after me, and I will make you sinners of men."
Instead of Pescadores, or fishermen, he referred to the first Apostles as Pecadores, or sinners.
The local priest who concelebrated the Mass with him loved the slip of the tongue, and he used it all week long in his homilies to make a very important theological point – Jesus calls US – sinners – to become fishers of men. Every one of us.
What would it take for you to abandon your livelihood and follow Jesus? What was it about Jesus that drew people to Him? This was at the beginning of his ministry – while in Luke’s version we see the “miracle” catch of fish, really at this point in Jesus’ ministry there are no real “signs” and wonders yet – none of the big stuff. Yet in all four instances, those first called left everything to follow him. In today’s Gospel, Peter and Andrew “abandoned” their nets and followed him. James and John left behind parents and coworkers and followed him.
One thing is certain. The early Christians believed Jesus when he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel." Gospel. The Good News. The GOOD news.
Good? Jesus said this just after John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison. Although Mark’s Gospel is considered the first of the four to be written down, remember that all of the Gospels were written after Jesus had been crucified, died, and had risen from the dead so the early Church had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them if they followed Jesus, and they did anyway.
Do you believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand today? In our first reading, we hear how a pagan city – Ninevah – believed in a messenger from God – Jonah – that their “world”, their city would be destroyed in 40 days and, without even an “or else” to offer them hope, abandoned the status quo of their lives in the unspoken hope that God would save them. Jonah didn’t even want to tell them – in a way we might think of the whale that swallowed Jonah as a “fish FOR men”?
The Kingdom of God IS at hand. We are ALL called to be fishers of those people who are in need of the Good News. We do not need to walk away from our families or livelihoods to proclaim the Good News – we can do it right where we are: to our children (or parents); to our friends; to our co-workers; to our neighbors. Will it take sacrifice? OF COURSE! While St. Paul may have seemed a little extreme in his letter to the Corinthians today, he is correct in that we must learn to place Jesus and his Good News as the priority of our lives.
One final thought. Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily on John’s version of today’s message, said that it “offers a compelling meditation about the importance of Christ for the activities of the Church. Christians are meant to be fishers of men, but when we operate according to our own agendas and efforts we will catch nothing. We must act under the Lord's direction. If we follow Christ we will do great good indeed.”
Whether we are Pescadores or Pecadores, God has need of us. And as pecadores, we have need of Him.