Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Third Sunday after Epiphany (24 January)
“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
There’s a real and powerful immediacy to this exchange. Our Lord calls to Simon Peter and Andrew, and then to James and John — how do they react? Do they go home to ponder his offer slowly? Do they take some time to make sure that the fishing nets are safely stored away? Do they explain the situation to their families? Do they plan a going-away party to say good-bye to everybody?
No — they go with him, and go with him immediately.
In fact, this is something which we’re going to hear quite often this year. For the most part, our Sunday Gospels this year are taken from S. Mark and his entire Gospel is almost breathless in the way he seeks to express the urgency of Christ’s message. S. Matthew begins his account with a genealogy — a traditional way of expressing the importance of a person; S. Luke fills in various details of Christ’s birth; S. John has that deeply moving and famous exposition of the word made flesh — but S. Mark simply tells us that he is relating the ‘Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God’ and within the first ten verses he has already reached Christ’s Baptism.
This urgency continues in today’s reading — having been summoned those four first disciples begin to follow Christ immediately. There is no waiting around; there is no pause for thought; there is no careful preparation.
But this is the reality of meeting with Christ. Remember that this was no ordinary person whom they met — this was God incarnate. In some ways we could have walked past Christ in the streets without giving him a second look — the whole point of the incarnation is that he is one of us, and so he wouldn’t stand out in terms of his appearance. But at the same time, when he meets with people, something deep within him links to them — they are drawn to him, they are puzzled by him, they try to trick him, they ask him questions, all sorts of different reactions, but they find it impossible to ignore him. Once he has been encountered he can’t simply be left behind.
So those disciples saw something in Christ — who knows quite what it was — but certainly they had an encounter with something profound, and so when he called on them to follow him this wasn’t a moment for equivocation — it wasn’t the time to stop and think about things. Once the challenge was put there, it was time to accept it.
The same is true of us. We have all had that encounter with Christ: he isn’t just another person we can walk past in the street. And indeed each of us in our own ways have been called to our own mission. That mission will be rather different from Saints Peter, Andrew, James, and John because it will be our mission and not theirs. But at the same time, it will be precisely the same mission, because Christ summed up the mission rather simply: ‘follow me.’
Those two words are words which we all hear — the details of what following Christ involves will be somewhat different for each of us, but the central message is the same. The same for us as for S. Peter — and indeed for every single Christian who has met with Christ ever since that moment.
The question is how are we going to react. Do we respond like those first disciples — do we recognise in Christ that something special, the thing which sets him apart from every other person to have walked this earth? Do we see that he is, as he would himself tell us later in the Gospel, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’?
If we do see this — if we do recognise him for what he truly is, then what are we waiting for? What Christ is, and what he offers to us, is so entirely different, so vastly better than anything which the world could offer that not only would it be madness to turn his offer down; it would be madness to anything other than embrace his offer fully, completely…and immediately.
Those four disciples saw that — and then they responded in the right way. They followed Christ, they learnt from him, they saw his miracles, they lost him at the Crucifixion and then were reunited after the Resurrection. Then they spent the rest of their lives chasing right across the known world trying to get others to do what they had done — to follow Christ. Except for S. John, they all allowed themselves to be killed rather than deny this man they had been following — this was the effect which their encounter with him had been. And now they can never be separated from him, because they are united with him in heaven. All of this because they heard those words — “follow me” — and they immediately followed him.
Those Saints now give this challenge to us — we have heard him, but how are we reacting? Are we reacting like they did? There is no promise that it’s going to be easy — it certainly wasn’t for those four disciples. There is no promise that we’re going to enjoy every moment of it — those disciples certainly didn’t. But there is a promise through everything Christ will be with us — we are following him after all. And if we follow him closely, then we can never be far away from him. And there is a promise that if we unite ourselves to him then he will never abandon us, nothing will be able to separate us from him.
As we go through this year — as we hear often that tone of urgency from S. Mark — let us reflect whether we are have the same spirit of urgency as those four disciples had. Let us ask for their prayers in seeking to imitate them as we too follow Christ, and follow him immediately.