[COLUMN] On the call to discipleship

THIS Sunday’s (January 22) Gospel presents Jesus’ intimate but challenging way of following him as his disciples. As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. He told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” As the Gospel relates, the two brothers immediately followed him.

As he walked farther, he saw two other brothers, James and John, mending their nets with their father. They, too, were fishermen. Then, they immediately followed him, leaving their boat and their father.

As in the call of Matthew, it’s hard to think that this was the first time that the two sets of brothers heard Jesus. I would say that they must have heard him preach and witnessed him heal people. As John the Baptist’s passion and preaching impacted them (some biblical experts claim they were also John’s disciples), Jesus’ words and boldness affected them strongly too. They could not resist following Jesus immediately because he spoke with certainty and authority, and his message came from a source beyond himself. And so, it is understandable that the disciples would be attracted to follow Jesus immediately.

Considering this story on the calling of the disciples would help us reflect on what drew us to keep believing in Jesus and practicing this faith through Catholicism. I’m sure there are reasons bigger than life that attract us to Jesus. I would say it’s our profound experience of his unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. It’s the strength and joy we receive from following and believing in him amidst life’s challenges and struggles.

But there are also the lessons, the wisdom he taught, and the life he led, which all make complete sense, especially in this troubled world beset by suffering, division, war, poverty, and hunger. We want our society and children to practice the values he taught and lived, such as selfless giving, compassion, mercy, justice, and care for those who feel alienated by society. His promise of eternal life through his resurrection gives us hope and meaning. His vision of a kingdom of love, justice, and peace in this world defines our mission as a church and society.

As Jesus’ followers, there are times when we get discouraged. That’s when we must exercise the virtues of a “fisherman,” according to William Barclay in his reflection on the call to discipleship in The Daily Study Bible Series.

First, we must have patience. Like a fisherman who must learn to wait patiently until the fish take the bait, we must not be restless and quick to move. Instead, we must learn to wait and be patient with the results of all our hard work, whether in raising a family, building a career, or fulfilling a ministry.

Second, we must have perseverance. We must learn not to be discouraged but always to try again. Failures and disappointments are all part of life. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Hebrews 6:11-12: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Third, we must have courage. We must be ready to take risks and face the “fury of the sea.” Living and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel is not for the lame but for the brave.

Fourth, we must have an eye for the right moment. As a fisherman knows the right time to fish, the right time to cast and not to cast, we too must have the wisdom or the insight to be fishers of men and women—the right time to speak the truth and the time to be quiet.

Finally, we must know how to fit the bait to the fish. Like a fisherman knows that one fish will rise to one bait and another to another, we must understand that one ministry approach may not fit all people. It’s especially true to ministry to a multi-cultural and multi-generational church.

Let’s continue to welcome the year with eagerness and readiness to fulfill God’s call. Indeed, that call entails being “fishers of men and women” who will continue to be attracted to the person of Jesus!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.


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