A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.
The contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry intend to help us come to know him, love him and follow him in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. This Exercise presents Jesus’ Call to Discipleship.[i] As with the other contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry, we also end this one with the triple colloquy (conversation) of A Meditation on Two Standards.[ii]
Mark describes Jesus passing along the sea of Galilee when he sees and then calls Simon and Andrew, and later James and John.[iii] While Mark offers few other details, most theologians believe the scene has historical underpinnings.[iv]
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fisherman. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who were in the boat mending the nets. Immediately, he called them and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (Mk 1:16-20)
Jesus’ call to discipleship was intrusive and disruptive of the lives of those he chose. It was offered at Jesus’ initiative and with a sense of urgency that demanded an immediate response. It was also reminiscent of the calling of the great Jewish prophets who responded, even if reluctantly, in a grace-filled manner to Yahweh’s overture (Exod 3; Isa 6; Jer 1).[v]
Simon, Andrew, James and John left their nets and boats, the latter two even abandoning their father and his hired men (1 Kgs 19:19-21), to follow Jesus and “fish for people.”[vi] It is a dramatic moment that reflects the gratuitousness of God and a life-altering commitment by ordinary people to discipleship with Jesus. Francis Moloney, in his book The Gospel of Mark, describes it this way.
“Jesus calls people to follow him; they are to be associated in the critical, eschatological in-breaking of the kingdom of God. There is no place for a conditioned response. It will cost no less than everything. Here we have a deliberately designed narrative that establishes a paradigm for a disciple’s vocation. These first vocation stories are not primarily about disciples and their virtue. They are about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the Son of God, full of the Spirit, urgently pressing on to his assigned task (1:1-13, 16, 19).”[vii]
The call to follow Jesus led to an apprenticeship that differed from traditional rabbinic formation. In first century Palestine, Jewish men typically sought out a rabbi in a formal house of study in order to study Mosaic law and the rabbinic tradition. There, students served their teacher while learning from him. In contrast, Jesus’ disciples absorbed his teaching experientially during an itinerant ministry. When prepared, they were sent out in pairs of two to bring the message of service on behalf of the kingdom of God to others (Mk 6:7-13; Lk 10:1-12).[viii] Discipleship unfolded in three phases.
First, Jesus called people to come to know him. He invited Andrew and another disciple of John to “come and see” (Jn 1:39) who he was, how he acted, and what he stood for. In responding, they experienced Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons, welcome and forgive sinners, invite people from all walks of life into table fellowship, and even speak out against the injustices of those who placed undue burdens upon ordinary people, all as a way of witnessing to the inclusiveness of God’s offer of salvation to all.
Second, it was in coming to know Jesus that people came to love him. Jesus had a profound sense of God’s love and it led him into a world of human suffering. There, he experienced compassion for the blind, the deaf, the crippled, and those in need of nourishment. From his compassion, Jesus acted by healing those in need and confronting behavior that allowed the few to profit at the expense of the many.
Third, it was in coming to know and love Jesus that those he called followed him in his mission on behalf of the kingdom of God, a reign of God over creation where God’s love, compassion and justice had irrupted into this world, and where they in turn became participators in God’s ongoing plan for the creation and salvation of this world.
Luke redacts Mark’s version of this scene by adding to it a miraculous catch of fish.[ix] He also makes Simon the focal point of the call to discipleship, even if James and John respond with him (Lk 5:1-11).[x] Luke’s intent is to foreshadow Simon’s preeminent standing among the disciples and as the leader of the early church. Simon Peter’s importance in continuing Jesus’ mission in history becomes self-evident as Luke’s gospel reaches its denouement with Jesus’ resurrection appearance to his disciples (24:34; Acts 2:14-40).
Furthermore, while Mark offers no mention of a previous relationship of Jesus with his first disciples (Mk 1:14-15), Luke presents an earlier encounter with Simon (Lk 4:38-39) that provides a rationale for his presumptive use of Simon’s boat from which to preach before asking him to put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch. It is only after Jesus calms Simon’s fears at a miraculous haul of fish that Jesus calls him to discipleship (Lk 5:3-9).
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Lk 5:10)[xi]
Gonzalez Faus, in his book Adiestrar la Libertad (To Teach Freedom), insists Luke’s use of a fishing analogy, “catching people” is an image that challenges Simon not only to participate in the salvific work of the kingdom of God, but also to become his most authentic self in order to help others do the same. This insight has profound implications for discipleship today. It necessitates both a personal commitment to realize our better selves as part of our witness to the kingdom of God, and at the same time a social commitment to provide others the same opportunity to reach the fullness of life God desires for them (Jn 10:10).[xii]
As Jesus walked with his first disciples through the towns and villages of Galilee, he noticed a tax collector, Levi, at his booth (Mk 2:13-17; Lk 5:27-32).[xiii] It was to this outcast and sinner that Jesus issued another call to discipleship.
“‘Follow me.’ And (Levi) got up and followed him.” (Mk 2:14)
Jesus’ call to Levi was an implicit offer of forgiveness and salvation.[xiv] Levi responded immediately and left everything behind to follow Jesus. Likely out of gratitude, he then asked Jesus to celebrate a festive meal with him, a group of tax collectors and other outcasts of society (Mk 2:15-17). Jesus’ participation in this celebration reveals God’s reign over creation irrupting into history, being inclusive of all and offering a paradigmatic expression of God’s reconciliation with sinful humanity.[xv]
When the Scribes of the Pharisees objected to Jesus’ participation in the meal as a violation of Jewish purity laws, Jesus responded with authority, expressing God’s welcome and offer of salvation to even sinners.[xvi]
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mk 2:17)
Luke alters Mark’s description of this scene by changing the Scribes of the Pharisees complaint about Jesus eating with sinners (Mk 2:16) to one that also includes his disciples (Lk 5:30). This adaptation likely reflects more an early Christian controversy about association with the unclean rather than an explicit confrontation of Jesus with Jewish authorities. For Luke, what is central to the story is the inclusiveness of the kingdom of God rather than any desire to separate the sinner from the rest of the community.
Discipleship with Jesus is a radical call to live as new human beings in a new world order. Moreover, it is a call that moves us beyond an intellectual ascent to faith to one that offers our deepest selves and God-given talents on behalf of the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. In saying, “Yes” to discipleship with Jesus we are making a commitment to seek and do the will of God in all our thoughts, words and actions. Many years ago, the prophet Micah summed up this commitment when he informed the Jewish people,
“You have been told what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8)
Let pray for the grace and courage to heed the prophet’s words and act upon them in our time. Then, after pondering the radical nature of the call to discipleship with Jesus, we end this contemplation with the triple colloquy of a Meditation on Two Standards as mentioned above.
[i] Puhl, L. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 275. Jesus’ disciples consisted of a small group of men and women from Galilee. The first called among these were several fishermen who he eventually named as apostles, a symbolic gesture that conveyed the re-regathering of the tribes of Israel.
[ii] Ibid., Section 147.
[iii] Boring, M.E., Mark: A Commentary, (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 58. The “Sea of Galilee” is actually a lake 7 miles wide and 2 miles long. Mark refers to it as a sea to invoke the chaos and anti-creation imagery of the Near East and Hebrew Scriptures. Also, Simon will be renamed Peter at the naming of the apostles (3:16) in order to distinguish him as the leading figure of that group and the early church.
[iv] Moloney, F.J., The Gospel of Mark, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 50-53. There is widespread agreement this scene originates from an earlier tradition that Mark has seized upon. See also Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 60.
[v] Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 58-61.
[vi] Ibid., 58-61. Boring notes the disciples will later rightly claim to have “left all” (10:28; cf. Lk 5:11), even though the evangelists will later portray them as still having a house, boat and family (cf. 1 Cor 9:5, Jn 21:3; Mk 1:29-31; 3:9; 4:1). As Boring states, “the paradigmatic scene in 1:16-20 is not intended to portray the domestic practicalities of discipleship, but to present the absolute claim of God mediated through Jesus’ word, and its effective result.”
[vii] Moloney, The Gospel of Mark, 53.
[viii] Ibid., The Gospel of Mark, 52. See also, Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 58-61.
[ix] Fitzmyer, J.A., The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 559-64. Fitzmyer notes the similarity of this scene with Jn 21:1-11 and believes they are accounts of the same miracle story that has been used for two different purposes: 1) Simon’s call (Luke); 2) the risen Jesus’ recalling Simon Peter following his betrayal during the Passion (John).
[x] There is no mention of Andrew in Luke’s account.
[xi] Fitzmyer, J.A., The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, 563. For Fitzmyer, “catching people” emphasizes Jesus’ intent to teach his disciples to save people for life in the kingdom of God.
[xii] Gonzalez Faus, J.I., Adiestrar la Libertad, (Santander: Sal Terrae, 2007), 86-87.
[xiii] Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people since they commonly demanded higher taxes than required by Roman authorities, only to keep the surplus funds for themselves.
[xiv] Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 80. Boring leaves open the question as to whether Levi is actually “Matthew,” one of the twelve apostles, or simply a disciple who followed Jesus. The more important point for Boring is that Jesus’ call is inclusive and open to all, including sinners.
[xv] Ibid., 81, 83.
[xvi] Ibid, 81. The scribes of the Pharisees were actual opponents of Mark and his followers, not Jesus. The tension expressed in this scene likely reflects the growing and increasingly diverse Christian community of Gentile and Jewish Christians running into opposition with Jews and strict Jewish Christians who were opposed to relaxing Jewish law or engaging in ritually unclean practices.