Jonah 3:1-5.10; 1Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
The simple, clear, decisive message of all three readings today is that there is little time left for conversion; little time before we die and find ourselves standing before the judgment seat of the Lord.
Jonah preaches: Only forty days more …
St Paul writes: …our time is growing short.
Jesus proclaims: The time has come…
The true object of this critical shortage of time is conversion; your conversion, my conversion. Indeed, when we say ‘time for conversion’ we often overlook the ambiguity. Time and conversion go together; time is precisely for conversion – a gift from God which affords us an opportunity for conversion.
But how are we to understand the idea of conversion? What is it, really? Many think it simply means stop being bad and start being good. This answer has undoubted merit but it seems to me there is a more complete way of understanding conversion, and that is to see it as entering into a personal relationship with Jesus.
Simon and Andrew, James and John are pictured in the gospel with charming, and yet powerful, simplicity. They are fishermen. Simon and Andrew were casting a net in the lake; James and John were in their boats mending their nets.
And what was Jesus doing? He was just walking along.
Actually it’s quite a strong picture of daily life by the Sea of Galilee, and, despite the interval of 2000 years, a rather easy scene to equate with our own working lives. We all know what it is to be busy with our work, regardless of what that work may be.
Simon and Andrew are out in the boat casting their net in the sea to catch fish. The net and the boat are their ‘tools of trade’. They are concentrating, focussed, absorbed – they are ‘making a living’. James and John are sitting in their own boat which is pulled up on the shore. They are with their father; mending their nets. As they work they chat.
Boats and nets are such useful things to possess. They enable Simon and Andrew to go out onto the water to catch fish and bring them safely to shore. Inside the boat they can work in relative comfort and some degree of security.
However, if the two would-be apostles own the boat we might also say that the boat ‘owns’ them. Fishermen are tied to their boats and, we could almost say, ‘caught’ in their own net. They cannot do without either.
And it’s true of our own lives too. A truck driver may own a huge, beautiful Kenworth, but there is a sense in which we can say that it in turn owns him. Though the firm offers us a living we are all ‘property of the firm’.
So now along comes Jesus. He has already begun to proclaim the Good News from God: The time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News. In other words, he has already given the first half of the answer to the question ‘What is conversion?’ – in other words, turn away from sin and believe in the gospel. Now he completes the answer by saying: Follow me.
God does not just command us to ‘be good’. This would be a cruel command because he knows, and we know, all too well that we just can’t be good; we lack the power. We don’t have what it takes. Sure, we can from time to time ‘do’ a good thing, but to ‘be’ good, to become good, is beyond our reach.
That is why Jesus spoke those words to Simon and Andrew: Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.
I will make you …
In discipleship is given the power for conversion, for transformation.
Simon and Andrew at once left their nets. They are now free; free to follow. Likewise James and John who left their father in the boat with the men he employed, and went after him.
The gospel today is in a way the Gospel for Dummies. Mark dramatises the call of Jesus, the leaving, and the following which are essential elements of conversion.
And so we find ourselves back at my preferred definition of conversion which is: to enter into a relationship with Jesus. This is the challenge to which we are called to respond today. We cannot make substitutions. Jesus didn’t say to the four future apostles ‘Be good’; he said ‘Follow me’.