Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gospel for Today: 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)

"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mk 1:17).  Jesus uses the metaphor of fishing to describe Andrew and Simon's new task of spreading the gospel.  Instead of catching fish, they would be "catching souls" for Christ.  For most of us, our only experience with fishing is sport fishing.  This sort of fishing is a hobby, something done on a weekend when we have no other obligations. It usually involves a cooler full of cold beverages, a lawn chair, and a lot of sitting and waiting.  Like fishing, evangelizing requires patience.  When you are working to spread the good news of Christ, you won't necessarily make a catch on your first, second, or even third cast.  You may have to wait quite a while before someone "takes the bait" as it were.  And as in fishing, it can be detrimental to get too excited and attempt to reel in a fish that is just nibbling at the bait.  You might scare the fish away.  

But evangelization cannot be just a hobby for us.  We must note that there is a sense of urgency about the evangelical work Christ charges the Apostles to undertake.  "This is the time of fulfillment," Jesus tells them, "the Kingdom of God is at hand."  St. Paul warns us in the second reading today that this world is passing away.  And truly, for any of us this hour could be our last to come to know Christ.  The urgency of the gospel comes through more in the metaphor when we consider what sort of fishing Andrew and Simon partook in.  They fished for a living.  This was no hobby; it was their profession.   

When your livelihood depends on catching fish, you have a different attitude about it.  It is not a relaxing endeavor, but hard labor.  Andrew and Simon fished with nets. These were large, heavy nets that had to be cast out into the water by hand.  They were weighted with stones so they would sink, trapping any fish in the water beneath them, and then pulled by hand back to the shore.  It was constant, hard, physical work that left one exhausted at the end of the day.  This is the work that Jesus told Andrew and Simon they would now be doing for men.  Successful fishermen cast broad nets, which meant you never knew just what you might bring in.  Evangelizing works best that way, too.  You have to cast a broad net, because you never know which soul is ripe to hear the good news of Christ.

When your life depends on catching fish, sometimes you have to think outside the box.  Very near campus, there is a spot on the Tuckaseegee where you can see a low line of stones forming a "V" shape that spans the entire river.  This is what remains of an ancient Cherokee fishing weir.  If the Cherokee did not catch fish, they didn't eat.  So they didn't mess around.  They built this V-shaped dam with a small opening at the tip of the V, across which they would string a net.  The fish were thus channeled through the narrow gap and into the net, where the fishermen would collect them.  Is there a lesson here for evangelizing?  The Cherokee figured out how to change the very environment of the river to catch more fish.  Sometimes to evangelize we need to also change our environment to create an atmosphere more conducive to the gospel.  

Think about this: as a Christian, is the environment of your life any different than the non-Christian?  Do you conduct yourself in the same manner?  Do you watch the same movies and TV shows?  Do you listen to the same music and read the same books?  Do you go to the same parties?  Do you spend your time the same way as the rest of the world?  If the answer to all of the above is "yes," then it is fair to ask what difference Christ has made in your life.  If the non-Christian cannot see any difference in you, then why should they be asked to change?

When you work as a "fisher of men," you yourself become the bait. You are the example people see of a Christian.  Are you a good example?  Are you someone people see and say, "I want what that person has?"  These are challenging questions; and indeed being an evangelist - being a Christian - is challenging work.  Many recoil at the idea of evangelization today.  We associate it with strangers knocking at our doors, interrupting our dinners.  We associate it with angry street preachers standing in the center of campus and yelling for us to repent or go to hell.  We are told that it is impolite to discuss religion.  But all of these negative examples show us a false way of evangelizing.  

In the gospel last week (Jn 1:35-42), when Andrew finds Jesus, it says, "he first found his own brother Simon and told him, 'we have found the Messiah'... then he brought him to Jesus."  That is evangelization.  Something wonderful happened to Andrew and the first thing he wanted to do was to share the news with those he cared about.  The word gospel means "good news," and there is nothing scary about sharing good news.  The question is, is the gospel good news for you?  Has it positively impacted your life?  If the answer is yes, then evangelization will come naturally.  If the answer is no, then perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse.  Perhaps we need evangelizing ourselves.

There are many who consider themselves Christians who still need evangelizing.  Perhaps you are one of these.  There are those who believe in Christ, and yet have not allowed Christ to change their lives.  This is a stumbling block; for how can we ask others to do what we have not done ourselves?  Christ tells Andrew and Simon, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  There are two parts to that sentence, and we cannot do the latter if we have not done the former.  We need to follow after Christ.  The gospel tells us that Andrew and Simon "abandoned their nets and followed Him."  They left their old lives behind and were willing to do whatever Christ commanded of them.  They were willing to change.  

If that sounds radical, that's because it is.  But that is what we are being asked to do.  For most of us, that does not necessarily mean giving up your job, your family, your course of study, and devoting yourself entirely to life as a missionary, or as a monastic.  (Though for some it may).  For most of us it may mean a more minor change, but a change nonetheless.  Andrew and Simon were fishermen by trade, and Christ made them fishers of men.  Perhaps Christ is asking you to take what you are already doing (or studying for) and to do that for Him.  The world needs more biologists for Christ, police officers for Christ, lawyers for Christ, politicians for Christ, journalists for Christ, and so on.  

The point is to be willing to follow where Christs leads.  If you are able to do that, then you become not only a fisher of men, but the bait and the net as well.  Your whole life becomes a testimony to the gospel, the good news of Christ.  You will be like a shining beacon in a storm tossed sea, bringing light and refuge to all those around you.  As St. Catherine of Sienna aptly put it, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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