Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is succinct. John has been arrested and Herod, who rules in Galilee, is ready to behead him. Not a good time, in human thinking, to begin a ministry. Better wait, we say.
But this is God’s time, different from ours. The Good News is God’s message, not ours. God will act according to his plan, not ours.
The call of the four fisherman, Peter, Andrew, James and John occurs by the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews the sea, like the wilderness, was a dangerous place; storms unsettled it; unpredictable winds made it fearful. Even an inland body of water twelve miles long and six miles wide was something to be wary of. They made a living on it, but still the sea was a dangerous place.
Jesus says simply, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark’s Gospel sees the four fishermen with a lot to learn to be fishers of men. They slowly understand his call. Later on, twelve would be called, (Mark 3,13-19), still later their ministry would be explained. (Mark 6,7-13)
They keep learning, not something you learn in a book, or by yourself. “I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. “Come away by yourselves and rest awhile,” he said to his disciples who returned to him with reports of all they had done. (Mark 6,30ff) Every disciple has to learn what the call means for him and for her, and a great deal of it we learn with others.
To listen to the audio for today’s homily, select the audio file below:
I usually go out fishing a couple of times a year at the Jersey Shore with a friend of mine who has a boat equipped with radar that tracks fish. I notice, though, he also has some old maps he has marked where the fish usually are; he also looks around to check where the party boats are. They’re the fishermen who are out there day after day and night after night. They make their living off the sea and so if they aren’t catching anything, nobody is.
In our gospel, Peter and his friends are professional fishermen, night and day, everyday fishermen. If they don’t know the waters, nobody does. One recent archeological investigation on the Sea of Galilee, at Magdala on its northwestern shore, close to Capernaum where Peter docked his boats, seems to confirm that at the time of Jesus, the fishing industry in Galilee was quite sophisticated. They had elaborate methods for storing and preserving fish in order to bring them to market at the right time. They had developed a dark blue netting for night fishing. They were good at it.
And so, when Peter tells Jesus, “We have worked hard all night and caught nothing,” he’s a professional talking. Experience is behind him; reason and human skill are behind him. “But at your word I will lower the nets.” Because he accepts the word of Jesus he gets a reward bigger than he could ever expect– a catch so great that their boats were in danger of sinking.
Later on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus asks Peter: “Who do people say I am?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers. But when Jesus goes on to say he will be arrested and put to death and rise again, Peter doesn’t want to hear it. That’s not reasonable. “Don’t think about that,” he says. And Jesus calls him Satan. “You’re not thinking like God, you’re thinking like human beings do.”
As he did on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asks Peter to go beyond human thinking. When God speaks and reveals things we have to go beyond our reasonableness and calculations.
Peter is not the only one who has to go beyond human thinking. We’re also asked to do that too, if we want to be people of faith. In our 2nd reading today the Apostle Paul asks us to believe.
“Brothers and sisters,
I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
he appeared to me, and
so we preach and so you believed.”
Paul wants his hearers to believe in God, the creator of this world. This world did not just happen. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and rose again.
We’re called to follow him, to be with him, to be his companions, his friends, to listen to his words, to hope in his promises, to love others as he has loved us.
“Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” That’s what we do when we come to Mass. This is the deep water where we lower our nets to catch those graces God wishes to give us. Surprising graces, more than we imagine, greater than we could expect. This is the sea where believers are blessed.