January 24, 2021 (Liturgical Year B)
In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus calls the first apostles to an unimaginably radical change. Jesus, who was in the early days of His public ministry, comes across two sets of brothers working with their families on the Sea of Galilee. Had the brothers even heard of Jesus? Even if they had, they probably didn’t know him very well — certainly not well enough to trust him with their lives! When they woke up that morning, did they have any intention of going farther than their families’ boats? I highly doubt it. One commentator put it succinctly: “In a traditional society, such a break with family and occupation is extraordinary.” (1) Their work was likely essential to not only to the continuation of their families’ businesses but their families’ very survival. And yet, in spite of everything tying them to the land and the sea and their families, when Jesus calls, they leave — immediately. Like Elisha who left his oxen standing in the field, James and John left their father — probably dumbfounded and speechless — in the family boat.
It’s an uncomfortable story, isn’t it? If we can’t trust God to leave us to doing what we’ve always done in the way we’ve always done it, what can we trust? Yet it’s not the only time God uses scripture to call us to such radical, life-altering change.
Paul, too, calls the church in Corinth to racial change. In Christianity’s nascent years, the return of Christ was believed to be imminent — if not today or tomorrow, then no later than the day after. This made the call to Love in the present moment that much more imperative. Paul urged his followers to alter everything about their lives to make space for that call. Absolutely — everything. The way they spent their money. How they related to and felt about each other. How they structured their society. Even these basic building blocks of life as they knew it were but dust compared to the urgent call to Love.
So, what does this to do with us? Surely God is not calling us to leave everything! Or is He?
While we don’t have the same expectation of Jesus’ immediate return, the imperative to love in the present moment is no less urgent. Sometimes, like the story of the first apostles leaving their families on the shore to follow a near-stranger, we have to give up what’s comfortable in order to better love. And it’s very possible that “thing” of comfort might be something very important to us. Our time. Our desires. Our political positions. Hanging out with people we know and like, in order to spend time with people we don’t know or even people who are hard to love. Everything which appears to hold our worlds together are mere illusions in God’s perspective. There is only one thing that is true and lasting. It’s the one thing in every fiber of the universe and at the very heart and soul of God’s being: Love.
And that, I think, is the true lesson of today’s Gospel. What matters is not the reasoning behind these first apostles’ decision to follow, but the decision itself. This call echoes across the generations and into our hearts. We. too, are urgently called to love, whatever the cost.
Perkins, Pheme. Mark in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol VII. Abingdon Press, Nashville: 2015.