3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
January 24, 2021
We once again listen to the story of the calling of the first disciples: Simon and Andrew, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus called them, and He would make them ‘the fishers of men.’ Yet, from countless possibilities of professions and occupations, why did they have to be ‘the fishers of men’? Why not merely Jesus’ promotion team? Why not Jesus’ soldiers?
The answer is not far from who the first disciples were. They were fishermen of Galilee. Yet, this time, they were no longer catching fish but gathering people for Christ. While they left almost everything behind and followed Jesus, they brought their lives, characters, experiences, and skills with them. They remained fishermen, but this time Jesus transformed the object of their catch: men and women.
The second reason why they were called ‘fishers of men’ is even more profound. It speaks of the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s prophesy. The great prophet Jeremiah who lived around 500 years before Christ, once said, “For I will bring them back to their land that I gave to their ancestors. I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them… [Jer 16:15-16].” The historical context of this prophecy is critical. After Salomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two smaller kingdoms. The northern kingdom was the coalition of 10 tribes, and the southern kingdom was the tribe, Judah and Benjamin. In 721 SM, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrian empire, and the ten tribes were deported to foreign lands. Then in 587 SM, the southern kingdom was demolished by the Babylonian empire, and the inhabitants were brought to the Babylonian lands. Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring back the scattered Israelites by sending ‘fishermen.’
By calling His first disciples as ‘fishers of men,’ Jesus was fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jesus was gathering back the lost tribes of Israelites to Himself as the new Israel. This is why Jesus called and chose twelve apostles. The twelve apostles shall serve as the leaders of the new twelve tribes of Israel.
The identity and mission as ‘fishers of men’ are primarily for the apostles, yet every baptized Christians are sharing in this identity. We are fishers of men and women for Christ. Some of us may be called to get a quantity gain, like a priest who baptized thousands of people. Some of us may be invited to have a quantity yield, like parents who raise and educate their children as mature and responsible Catholics. Some of us stand in between these two kinds of catches, like zealous catechists, courageous lay missionaries, faithful religious sisters who take care of schools or orphanages, or indefatigable community leaders.
Surely to be a fisherman is not a stress-free job. Sometimes, we are facing storms and dangers. Sometimes, we are getting nothing after our best effort. Occasionally, we get in a disagreement with our fellow fishermen. However, the Gospel reminds us that we are not fishermen because we are good, but because Jesus calls us and makes us His fishermen. We draw our purpose and strength from Jesus because we are participating in Jesus’ mission to gather people to Himself. We are working together with apostles to fulfill God’s promise of the New Israel. We are the fishers of men.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP