In today’s gospel, Jesus inaugurates his ministry of preaching and calls his first disciples. He begins his ministry where John the Baptist ends his mission. John had earlier announced the kingdom of God and prepared the people for its coming through the baptism of repentance.
Now Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God continues John’s proclamation. And like John, he preaches the kingdom in the context of repentance. However, the preaching of Jesus far surpasses that of John because Jesus is the fulfillment of all that John had preached.
In Jesus, John’s announcement of the coming of “one mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” is realized. In Jesus, the kingdom of God, heralded by John, isn’t just near; it is already here. Jesus, in fact, is the embodiment of the kingdom of God.
This is demonstrated again and again in the words and deeds of Jesus, which bring healing and forgiveness, the unmistakable signs of the kingdom. More convincingly, Jesus is the personification of God’s kingdom, for in him the fulfilment of the Father’s will finds perfection (remember: thy kingdom come means thy will be done).
Jesus invites us all to become part of this kingdom. How? In Jesus’ own words, through repentance and belief in the gospel.
The repentance preached by John and ritualized by his baptism In the Jordan was a call to turn away from sin. The repentance preached by Jesus is a call beyond leaving sin behind. It is a call to metanoia (conversion). The Greek word means a change of mind that results in a change of direction. True repentance does not only evoke a sense of guilt and regret but moves one towards a new understanding of his/her situation and a firm determination to take a new direction.
And what is this new vision and new direction that conversion calls us to? It is the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God, earlier preached by John and now by Jesus. “Jesus is the fulfilment of [God’s] promise[s]; He Himself is the “good news” to believe in, to receive and to communicate to all men and women of every time that they too may entrust their life to Him.” (Pope Francis, 2015)
Hence, Jesus calls us, not only to repentance but to believe in the gospel, which means to believe in him. He is the Gospel, the good news par excellence, the living and life-giving Word of God. To believe in Jesus means to accept him and to entrust our life totally to him. It means to leave behind our old ways and to assume his own way of thinking and doing. When this happens, we become his followers, his disciples.
Today’s story of the call of the four fishermen offers a precious insight into the deeper meaning of discipleship. As Jesus walks along the shores of Galilee, he sees the brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John, and calls them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” With his invitation, Jesus also reveals his intention for the fishermen – to make them fishers of men. The first four disciples of Jesus are also to become his first apostles. In truth, every disciple is an apostle. An apostle is one who is sent (for the mission). Thus, Pope Francis tells us that we cannot speak of a disciple and a missionary separately. We can only speak of a missionary disciple.
Upon hearing the call of Jesus, the four immediately left their nets and their families to follow Jesus. Does this mean that we too are to leave everything behind, if we are to follow Jesus and become his disciples, like the apostles and today’s missionaries?
Here a right understanding of conversation can help. What is asked of us is to leave behind our old ways of thinking and doing and take on Christ’s ways for the sake of the kingdom. More than leaving their nets behind, Simon and the other three left their personal and, perhaps, their commercial pursuits in order to use their special skills of catching for a higher cause.
I think this is what the Lord wants from us as disciples and apostles – to leave behind our old ways of thinking and doing and to direct them for the kingdom.
St. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier of the king. But when he encountered Christ and heard his call, he remained a soldier – but this time, as soldier of Christ. He put up a company of men, ready to defend the Church (Militant), willing to do battle on the frontline, and unshakeable in their loyalty and obedience to the Pope.
Blessed Carlo Acutis too was a true disciple and missionary without having to leave his home. A computer savvy, he used his extraordinary talent to bring countless netizens to Christ, instead of using it just for personal gratification.
Like the four fishermen, we too are called to follow Christ and to be fishers of men and women.