A clever advertisement for cellular phone service has found a niche in the popular consciousness. The question “Can you hear me now?” suggests that with this system, reception is good anywhere in the world—if you are open to the call. This all sounds like a vocation ad—not merely vocation to priesthood or religious life, but vocation to a life of Christian ministry. God says to all of us, “Can you hear me now?” And we can hear this call anywhere in the world, if we are open to it.
Today’s Gospel reading recounts Jesus’ call to two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, and James and John, all of them fishermen. He invites them with simple, direct, forceful words: “Come after me.” Their response is immediate and total. They leave their trade. More than that, James and John leave their father. In a patriarchal society, the father-son relationship is one of the most intimate bonds. It suggests family responsibilities as well as the family business. These men are called from their previous lives of fishing to new lives of teaching and healing.
Their response to the call of discipleship may appear to be quite radical. Actually, very few of us are asked to leave all behind and launch out into new lives and new ministerial responsibilities. Most of us are expected to answer the call and remain where we are, doing what we do, but now with a view to proclaiming explicitly with our lives the Gospel of the reign of God.
Today’s readings demonstrate how the early Christians understood that Jesus fulfilled the expectations of ancient Israel. In today’s first reading, Isaiah proclaims that the people in Galilee, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, are delivered from darkness and hardship. The Gospel refers to this passage when describing the ministry of Jesus and the subsequent ministry of his disciples. It is now up to each one of us to discover how we might continue fulfilling that prophetic statement. How can we proclaim the Gospel of the reign of God?
Paul warns of the danger of clinging to religious heroes rather than to Christ. Christians in the Corinthian community were claiming religious superiority because of the particular version of the Gospel they followed. Some boasted of being followers of Cephas (Peter); others claimed Paul or someone by the name of Apollos; still others maintained that they belonged to the Christ party. We are no different today, we who boast of adhering to the views of Mother Angelica or Matthew Fox or Joan Chittister or Thomas Merton. Paul would challenge us, who often take sides against one another, “Is Christ divided?” It is Christ who calls, and it is Christ to whom we all owe our allegiance.