Today’s readings set a clear pattern before our hearts: call and response. When God calls, when his word pierces our hearts, the right response is to do immediately what he asks, with humility and courage. We see examples of this kind of response in the people of Nineveh and in the first four Apostles called by Jesus.
God sent the prophet Jonah to the people of Nineveh, a notoriously wicked city. When they heard Jonah’s word of warning, they responded very quickly. It only took one day of preaching to move them to profound conversion. They began to fast in reparation for their sins, and they put on sackcloth, a customary sign of deep repentance. God saw how they responded to his call, and he mercifully spared the whole city. This account shows us that what God wants is our conversion, not our destruction. The disaster which threatens us if we do not repent is the tragic destruction of our own lives, which results from our decision to live outside the will of God.
The Gospel also recounts examples of a rapid response to the Lord’s call. Simon and Andrew immediately abandon their fishing nets, and James and John leave their father Zebedee in the boat. The vocation story of these four disciples emphasizes not only the immediate change in their lives, but also the degree of abandonment involved in following the Lord. The suddenness and totality of their decision may look reckless to us, but we should recall that Andrew and Simon had already met Jesus earlier, as we learned from last Sunday’s Gospel. They had already heard the reliable testimony of John the Baptist that Jesus is the Lamb of God. They had already been moved by Jesus’ preaching and ministry. Thus, the foundations were in place for them to receive the radical call to become his disciples.
Despite our weakness and unworthiness, we, too, have been called to follow Jesus. Following him always involves leaving something else behind – in the first place, sin. We cannot serve two masters. Slavery to sin and the freedom of the children of God cannot co-exist. The people of Nineveh rightly understand that the first step back to God is the step away from sin, that is, repentance. However, discipleship takes us further than forsaking sin. We must also abandon even legitimate occupations, like fishing, if they are not God’s will for us. To be a disciple means to be ready to immediately leave behind whatever holds us back from following God’s call. If we are too strongly attached to the good things of this world, we will not be free to make radical decisions for God.
Freedom from worldly attachments is what Paul exhorts us to in the second reading. If we want to be faithful, it is important that we identify accurately these attachments – the ways we can get caught up in the tangled nets of our fallen nature. Worldly affairs attract us, and we put undue importance on “the world in its present form,” which is “passing away.” Usually God does not call us to abandon the world literally, but only to be detached from it – to be in the world but not of it (cf. Jn 17:15-16). The danger is that when we turn our eyes away from God who has personally called us to follow him, the resulting sense of inner emptiness moves us to look to the world for comfort and security. It can even happen that, instead of treasuring our call and dedicating ourselves to the Lord’s will, we harbor a selfish desire that makes the call itself look unjust and unreasonable. Instead of fostering the conversion of others, we ourselves grow bitter and resentful of the demands of our vocation. When we do not choose conversion, we choose self-destruction.
For us to serve others in freedom and joy, the process of conversion must continue in our own hearts. To abandon our former lives and follow the way of Jesus, and to persevere as his disciples, we need the power of the Holy Spirit who was poured into our hearts at Baptism. God himself has made it possible for us to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” At the first sound of his voice, at the first indication of his will, let us drop our “nets” and re-dedicate ourselves to him. In this way, the love of Jesus will take root in our hearts and his truth will reign in us.
Why is it important for me to foster humility and courage as I follow the call from God? When do I find it difficult to abandon the nets of my worldly attachments? When I hear the voice of God, what is my response?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.