Come and You Will See – Week 2

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 
Mark 1:15

 

My Dear Friends in Christ,

In October 1964, a struggling young British rock band released their second album that year. One of the songs on that second album became quite a hit for the group. Entitled “Time Is on My Side,” the song offered the perspective of a jilted young man in love who will wait for his lady to return. He does not need necessarily to be active because he can wait her out. No matter how long it takes, no matter what she goes through, he will be waiting, and he can wait for her longer than she can run from or escape his love. The song went onto become an anthem for the burgeoning rock generation, even being re-released several years later.

Just five years after the original release of The Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong would record one of his well-known hits, the last recording before he died. It was a secondary musical theme for the James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (for you Bond fans, this was the only time the title role was held by George Lazenby). In that song, Louis Armstrong belted out the fallacy that gave the song its name: “We Have All the Time in the World.” The song spoke of time that allows the unfolding of all the “precious gifts love has in store.”

Both of these songs portray a common theme in music and popular culture: that with determination, we can secure a better outcome or, at the very least, out-wait the negative. Certainly, a great theme for romantic literature and culture, and a popular (though still romantic) view of life. That time is on our side, that we have all the time in the world, is a tantalizing theme but it belies the reality we may hesitate to recognize, but a reality that often crushes in. And it’s a reality highlighted by each and all of our readings this week.

Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him…a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John he called them, [too]…. So they left their father Zebedee ….and followed him. We hear in our gospel today the Jesus’ call of Simon and Andrew, James and John and their response to him. This isn’t the first time they have met Jesus as we saw last week. But it shows us what can happen when we respond to the invitation of Jesus: “Come and you will see.” This invitation is the scriptural basis for our message series and for our call as disciples. Jesus senses in the heart of Andrew and his friend an unmet need, an ache that seeks healing, an emptiness that looks for fulfillment. So Jesus invites them and then Jesus welcomes them not only into His Posse, not only into His home (the place where He was staying at that moment) but into the heart and the life of God. Jesus asks nothing of them except an openness to see who God is and how God works, a God of mercy and gentleness that challenges even the great prophet John the Baptist, so radical in God’s love for others, in the offering of God’s mercy, and in the opening to the kingdom. And they are changed. Andrew invites Simon; Simon gets a new name and then, once they are aware of God’s love, of God’s plan, no matter how confusing it may seem, they are ready for God’s call. Now, Jesus calls them by name and asks them to follow.

Our familiarity with the story of the call of these first Apostles can sometimes cause us to miss how radical the interaction of Jesus and Peter and Andrew and James and John. It’s radical in two major ways:

  1. We first see the radical nature of the call if we focus on who it is that Jesus calls.  It is only one line, and a short one at that, but to the hearers of this story and, later, to the early readers of Mark’s gospel, it would have spoken volumes: they were fishermen. Jesus calls fishermen to help him in his ministry. These are the salt of the earth kind of guys, uneducated and uncultured, not the high-falootin’ types of well-born society. These were the men who got up every day and went to work, doing hard work, back-breaking work, tiring work that involved long hours and little reward. These are the men whom Jesus calls, first. He does not go first to those that society says are preferred: the well-born or the well-educated, he does not go to the scribes or the Pharisees, and he does not go to the civil leaders of his day. He goes first to these simple men.

And he goes not because they are blue-collar or because they work hard, he goes because they are men of faith, because they believe deeply, because they are waiting for the messiah, because they are, in their own simple ways, preparing their lives for that messiah’s coming. And so they are open when Jesus comes, despite not being quite what they are excepting, they are open to the call that Jesus speaks. And this very fact that Jesus called, what the world considers so low-born, would have spoken volumes to those in the early church; especially, those who knew how the apostles, despite some initial weaknesses and failures, would all end up giving their lives, figuratively and then literally, in service to Christ and his Church.

Jesus will go on to call the rich, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary who were from a very wealthy family; he will go onto call the well-educated, the scribes and the Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were both members of the Sanhedrin; and he will go onto to call the civil leaders; Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew’s call by Caravaggio above) and Longinus, called by Christ’s example on the cross was a Roman centurion.

But Christ’s first call to Peter and Andrew, James and John, simple fisherman, was radical and it serves to remind us that God does not care about what we are, or what we do, or how much education we have. God cares how open we are, how deep our faith is, how fully we are preparing for the coming, now the second coming of the Messiah. God cares not how rich our bank accounts are. God cares how rich our relationship with Jesus is.

  1. And the Gospel story goes onto show that not only was the call of Jesus radical, but so were the responses of Peter and Andrew, James and John: Then they abandoned their nets and followed him… So they left their father Zebedee ….and followed him. Without hesitation, they leave their nets and they leave their boats all to follow Jesus. But even more importantly, they leave everything else behind as well: they leave their families, their friends, their way of life, their comfort zones, and their security. They leave everything that they know and have to follow Jesus. And they do it without hesitation. What a radical response to Jesus’ call, what radical transformation, and for us, what an example.

Peter and Andrew, James and John serve as an example for us, because each one of us here has been called by God by name. Oh we were not standing in a boat or hauling nets, but we were near water, most likely held over the waters of the baptismal font by our parents or godparents. Robert John, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our name was spoken three times as the water was poured. And God used this event to call us, just as he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. He called us then to follow him and gave us the gift of his spirit that we may respond to the call. And for most of us it has taken awhile to respond and most of the time we have responded half-heartedly, busy about many things. These are mostly good things – taking care of our families, earning a living, but there are also things that just keep us busy, things that keep us from responding in the radical way of Peter and Andrew and James and John.

Our call is to recommit ourselves to our response, to begin anew and to begin again in the radical response of those Apostles. And Saint Paul tells us in our second readings as he told the Church at Corinth: I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out….For the world in its present form is passing away. The world as we know it is passing away. Time is running out, time is NOT on our side, we do not have all the time in the world to respond. Jesus calls us to respond now; our call is to catch others with the net of Jesus Christ and the love of God He offers; our call is to become here and now fishers of women and men. We’re not going to do this only by our words. In fact words are ineffective when the example does not line up in the same way.

But the God we must preach is the God of mercy we hear of in our first reading: The God who pardons Nineveh. This passage is the second chance for Jonah. You may recall that he was not too excited about God’s call to go and challenge Nineveh, an exceedingly wicked city, as well as an exceedingly great one. So he upped and fled, hightailing it away from God, escaping by the first sea going ship available. When the sailors fell on hard times, they threw Jonah overboard where he was swallowed by the whale. After God commands the whale to spit him up, Jonah was a little bit more amenable to God’s request. Whereas he fled the first time, he immediately arises and carries out YHWH’S instruction this time. “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Now, Nineveh was “an exceedingly large city” (literally, “a great city to G—d”) requiring three days to walk across it. After only one day, Jonah witnesses Nineveh’s repentance first-hand: They believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. That such a great and wicked city repents so quickly, makes the repentance of Nineveh especially noteworthy. Our translations reads the people of Nineveh believed God,” as if they were only afraid God would carry out the violence promised. However, the original text reads more literally, “and the [people]…of Nineveh believed in God.” Everyone in the whole city did more than merely acknowledge some form of divine power. Immediately they declare a fast and put on sackcloth, common signs of mourning, sorrow, and repentance in the ancient world. They come to believe not only in God’s power to destroy but they come to believe more deeply in a good and merciful God.

Jonah’s message even reaches the king of Nineveh who was an arrogant monarch (sound familiar?), who not only defied YHWH and threatened Jerusalem, but boasted that his power was greater than YHWH’S because he has been able to overthrow violently and who stood in his way, including God’s chosen people. Might and brute force seemed to him more powerful than a distant God. These were his answer to any challenge he faced and to his identity and his perception of himself. But even this self-styled rival to Yahweh recognizes God’s power. Upon hearing the message of Jonah, the king rises from his throne, removes his robe, puts on sackcloth, and sits in the dust or ashes, willingly acknowledging that YHWH’S is greater. Together with his people, the king looks prays for the God of Israel as described in the Book of Exodus: merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation. The people of Nineveh hold out the hope that by turning from evil, justice may be served through compassion rather than through punishment.

All around him, Jonah, the Israelite prophet, one of God’s chosen who should know better and rejoice in the reality of who God is and how God works, sees pagans acknowledging God. But Jonah gets angry at God who didn’t carry out the destruction of Nineveh as promised. He wanted the violence, the destruction of those who had turned away from God. Now that’s another homily but I encourage you to read the rest of the story of Jonah.

What we see in all of these readings is God making use of time in a way different than was originally intended by the one called by God. Jonah wanted God simply to destroy the pesky Ninevites. Instead, God wanted them to repent and use the time to believe in God. Saint Paul reminds us of a similar principle. Focus not on the things of this world.  Rather, use the things of this world, in communion with others in the world, to look beyond, to focus on eternity, to think about God’s coming kingdom more than our earthly one. And of course, Jesus calls Andrew and Peter, James and John to a life of faith, both bigger and deeper than their immediate families and the small world around them.

Each of these readings adds to the clarion call that Louis Armstrong and the Rolling Stones were wrong: time is not on my side. I do NOT have all the time in the world. AS Jonah was challenged by God’s call and methods, so too, I must stop fleeing from God,  and fighting God, replacing my will with God’s. Like Saint Paul, I have to begin today to see my own life, even my family and my service to them in terms of the larger context of my relationship with God. It’s not that God is calling me to dump my life or the possessions I have but that God is calling to understand that I begin today to act. And Jesus reminds us that the primary call for us as disciples is two-fold: to follow Him and to fish for others.

Now, I may not be called as they were to upend my life, leave my wife and family, quit my job or drop out of school. Now some are called to serve by leaving these behind. I think of missionaries or seminarians or men and women religious who have done just that. But, even for those who remain in the same place, with the same family, working the same job, studying in the same school, facing the same routine, they cannot continue with the same attitude. Each of us must respond as radically as Andrew and Peter, James and John.


Part of that response for some we see today in the Rite of Welcome we celebrated today as part of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) the journey of faith and discovery, prayer, study and formation for those who wish to draw closer to God by joining the Catholic Church. For some, such as for Dawn Kuti, Jen Ondrasik, and Liz Zamana who we welcomed today, this will mean being baptized. These women are answering God’s invitation to “Come and to see.” They’re accepting the invitation of Jesus to be welcomed further and drawn deeper into the love of God made known through our community. These three women want to be baptized and, along with two others who have already been baptized, received into the Church and become a fuller member of our community. Each of these have a story to tell of how she encountered Christ, how she had been, like Andrew in our Gospel last week, following Christ from a distance. And each of these were drawn closer to Christ in and by our community.

Dawn, Jen and Liz make known the grace of a God who calls in God’s time and in God’s ways. None of them had the grace of being baptized at birth. But God made our efforts fruitful in helping them respond to the invitation of Jesus. It’s the very essence of our call to make disciples. Not one of these women is coming only for what she gets from Jesus and our community. Nope. In their lives they are already active in a life of prayer and service, with their families and the children they have and are raising in the faith, with our community the service each offers in different arena, and, most importantly, they are actively building their relationship with God in their study and formation and prayer. God has called them through our service as disciples. The celebration we had today is the very essence of who we are called to be, a community that invites, that welcomes and, by bringing people to Jesus a community that also calls, that makes disciples. And that is why we have to make the best use of our time.

Join us as Jesus invites us closer, as Jesus welcomes us and all into God’s Heart, as Jesus calls us to reach out to others. Join us as we continue to look practically at what it means as individuals and as a community to follow Christ, to become comfortable with our faith, and to live better the call Jesus gives to share our faith. “Come and you will see.”

Peace,

 

 

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