Today’s liturgy invites us to take up again the reflections on Christian discipleship that we began last Sunday. Last week we considered what Christian discipleship has in common with the following of inspiring human leaders. The vivid picture painted by Mark in today’s gospel reading highlights characteristics of Christian discipleship that have no parallel in the world of human discipleship.
In our common human experience, the decision to become a disciple is first and foremost a decision made by the follower. The decision to become a disciple of the Saviour has its origin in the decision and call of the Lord himself. Mark’s brief narrative probably has its basis in a more complex sequence of events - in which the four fishermen have already heard the ‘Good News’ preached by Jesus, that ‘the kingdom of God is close at hand’: alluded to in the previous verses. But Mark wishes to emphasise the authoritative call of Jesus as the basis of the relationship they enter into, and the unconditional nature of their response. ‘You did not chose me, no. I chose you’ – these words of Jesus at the supper, in John’s gospel, are addressed to each of us. Our relationship with the Lord is grounded in his decision on our behalf and his eternal fidelity.
Responding to the call of Jesus – like all the great decisions of a full and generous life – is not without its cost. We are reminded of this by Mark’s stark narrative - as the four leave behind old securities and their kinsfolk to throw in their lot with Jesus.
The choice of Jesus is not related to any previous formation or qualifications. Mark describes the call as coming to them unexpectedly, in the midst of their daily work. As successful fishermen, with hired labour, they were probably literate and relatively well informed in the faith of old Israel. But this is of no consequence in Mark’s narrative. We who are called together to form the community of the Lord’s disciples come from different backgrounds and outlooks, young and old, rich and poor; united in our discipleship of the one Lord we must show the world all that a generous following of Christ has to offer the human family – nothing less than a foretaste of the final Kingdom.
‘I will make you fishers of men’ – the call to discipleship is an invitation to share in the mission of Jesus, to share his responsibility for the whole human family. If the Church in which we believe is the community of those who have responded to this call, Mark’s account presents Jesus as beginning to create the Church at the very outset of his ministry.
The contrast between the relationship entered into by Jewish rabbi of the time of Jesus, and the relationship the Saviour entered into with his disciples has often been remarked upon. ‘Follow me’ – these words give expression to a decision made from all eternity, a decision that will never be revoked, as he leads us to share in his own eternal destiny.
John Thornhill sm