The World calls the Qualified, but God qualifies the Called!
A story is told that one day a middle-aged, single woman came to see a holy old priest to confide to him that Jesus appeared to her at her house. She was very excited describing exactly what happened. She was about to sleep when she saw Jesus standing at the foot of her bed. He was dressed in a white robe and was shining brightly. He called her name and said, “Follow me. I have work for you to do.” And then he disappeared.
The woman asked the priest, “What should I do, Father? Jesus is calling me. I want to follow and serve him. I want to do his work totally and completely.” The priest said, “Well, you could join our weekly Bible study group and later you could perhaps lead it.” The woman replied, “Join your Bible study group! But Father, I really cannot get along with some of the people in that group. And I think some talk too much.”
The priest then said, “Okay, maybe you can just teach the children attending our Catechism class twice a month.” “That may be a bit better.” the woman replied, “But I would rather do something else. You know Father that I have little patience with noisy children that keep on running around.”
“Well then you can join our monthly visit to the depressed areas to distribute food items to the poor, teach them some form of livelihood, and assist in cleaning up their neighborhood,” suggested the priest. The woman responded, “Oh Father, I really like to do that. I love the poor. The only problem is that I am very sensitive to odor, flies and mosquitoes.”
Now feeling sad, the old priest advised the woman, “Okay then, perhaps you should just go back home and wait till Jesus appears to you again. If he does, ask him what exactly is it that he would like you to do.”
Today’s readings focus on Jesus, the light who dispels the darkness in our hearts and in our world. They focus, too, on the call he makes to each of us and to us as a parish community to welcome his light and to carry on his mission of radiating that light to others. If we are going to say “Yes” to this mission we will have to follow the example of the first disciples, and let go anything that is hindering us from responding to the call.
The First Reading comes from Isaiah who lived through the terror of the Assyrian invasion of Palestine towards the close of the 8th century before Christ. After describing the spread of oppression, however, he offers hope to his contemporaries by telling them God was promising to send a light into their midst that would dispel the gloom by breaking the yoke laid on them by Assyria.
In the Second Reading, Paul speaks of the power of the cross. It is the power of God’s love shining in the heart of Jesus in his darkest hour. The crucifixion could not obscure the light. In fact the light shines out all the more clearly because of the surrounding darkness. This is the high point of Jesus’ ministry, a ministry which began some three years earlier in Galilee where Jesus first showed how near God is to us and how healing God’s love can be if we open our minds and hearts to that love.
In today’s Gospel, Matthew explains that what had been prophesied by Isaiah had been fulfilled through the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus. By his ministry of inviting people to the Kingdom of God through repentance, Jesus brought Light to peoples living in darkness, thus fulfilling God’s original promise. In addition, the Gospel describes the call of the first disciples (4:18-22), and Jesus’ own teaching and healing ministry, inviting people to repent of their sins and accept the Good News of God’s rule (Kingdom of God), which he was preaching. Ordinary fishermen with no formal training in Mosaic Law were chosen to preach the Good News. They were to be very effective instruments in the hands of Jesus to continue his mission.
The story is told about a despondent man who complained to his mother: “I’ve stopped going to the church for two reasons: I don’t like the people and the people don’t like me.”
The mother gazed at him and consoling him by saying: “My son you should go back to church for two reasons: you’re already fifty five years old and you are their parish priest.”
When the Lord started his ministry, He called a core group: Peter and Andrew, James and John and others to become henceforth, ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:12-23). These followers, who had been called as apostles, were to continue his work of salvation after he had ascended to heaven whether the people would like them or not, much like the dejected parish priest in the above story.
But, why Jesus calls these fishermen? According to William Barclay, the famous Bible commentator, in his commentary about this gospel passage of St. Matthew had said that a good fisherman possesses the very qualities that Jesus wants when he calls the four fishermen in the gospel to become fishers of men.
First, a fisherman has patience. He learns to wait patiently until the fish will take the bait. If he is restless and quick to move, he will never make a fisherman. The good fisher of men must have patience. It is but rarely in preaching or in teaching that will seek quick results. We must learn to wait.
Second, a fisherman has perseverance. A fisherman learns not to be discouraged but always to try again. The good teacher and preacher must not be discouraged when nothing seems to happen. He must be always ready to try again.
Third, a fisherman has courage. As the old Greek said when he prayed to gods for protection: “My boat is so small and the sea is so large.” A fisherman is ready to risk and to face the fury of the sea and of the gale. The good preacher and teacher must be well aware that there is always a danger in telling man the truth. The man who tells the truth more often than not takes his reputation and his life in his hands.
Fourth, a fisherman has an eye for the right moment. The wise fisherman knows well that there are times when it is hopeless to fish. He knows when to cast and when not to cast. The good teacher and preacher choose his moment. There are times when men will welcome the truth. There are times when truth will move them and times when the truth will harden them in their opposition to the truth. The wise preacher knows that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.
Fifth, a fisherman knows how to fit the bait to the fish. One fish will rise to one bait and another to another. The wise preacher and teacher know that the same approach will not win all men. He may even have to know and recognize his own limitations. He may have to discover that there are certain spheres in which he himself can work and others in which he cannot.
Lastly, the wise fisherman must keep himself out of sight. If he obtrudes his own presence, even his own shadow, the fish will very certainly not bite. The wise preacher and teacher will always seek to present men not with himself but with Jesus Christ. His aim is to fix man’s eyes, not on himself but on the figure beyond.
In this passage, the Gospel writer is clearly telling us that Jesus calls his disciples for two purposes: one, to “cast nets” in order to “catch” people and “haul” them to become his followers; and two, to “mend nets” in order to remove the “holes” that will cause the people already “caught” to “swim away” and be lost again. Jesus calls his disciples to the twin task of evangelization and pastoral care. These are two different but equally important tasks. When Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to become “fishers of men,” he has in mind these two important functions. While it is important to preach the gospel and bring all men and women under the name of Jesus, it is equally important to provide them with proper pastoral care, to edify them, to encourage them, to serve them, so that they may remain faithful till the end. This two-fold duty will later be reflected in the letter of Peter: Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies (1 Pt 4:11). We are called to cast our nets – to preach and evangelize. We are called to mend our nets – to pastor and serve. This is what Jesus meant when he said: I will make you fishers of men.
God can use anyone for his Kingdom of God and to proclaim the good news.
“Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!”
No matter where you are in your life with God, HE is qualifying you for his service because you are CALLED. He can help you overcome the mistakes you have made, and even use them to help others. Just allow him to use you.
To follow Jesus, the fishermen had to leave their fishing. We, too, must be willing to let go anything that gets in the way of his call. This is the basic Christian virtue sometimes spoken of as detachment. It is not a matter of refraining from becoming really involved in this world. God loves the world, and Jesus longed to heal it so that we would live to the full. Disciples of Jesus are committed to undertake God’s project for the world with all their hearts and minds and with all their energy. If fishing is our occupation we should mend our nets and do it properly. But if God calls us to something else we must be ready to leave everything and anything to do his will.
It is our privilege to be Jesus’ instruments to achieve harmony in the world, countering the effects of sin by the purity of our living and our loving. As we open our hearts to receive his healing and forgiveness, let us be ready to receive his call to take the message of reconciliation out to others. I conclude with a prayer composed by Cardinal Henry Newman: ‘Dear Jesus, help me spread your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood me with your Spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may be only a radiance of yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every person I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.’
“When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.” – Mark Twain
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.