There have been very few times in my life that my response to an invitation or call has been as immediate as that of Simon and Andrew and James and John in today’s Gospel. It seems that just about any time I’ve had to leave anything behind and pick up and begin anew, I’ve sunk my teeth into the decision and ruminated over my options. Just this year, I moved across the country from Massachusetts to California for a new job and a fresh start. While months later, the move still often feels dramatic and abrupt, the decision to leap from coast to coast was preceded by a months-long interview process and days of decision-making once I had the job offer. I had plenty of time to imagine what this might feel like, to seek the wisdom of mentors I trust, to pray and to prepare. For Simon and Andrew and James and John, there’s no hesitation: Jesus calls, and they are compelled.
“And they picked up their nets, and followed him.”
In this season of Ordinary Time, today’s Gospel reminds us that ours is a God who disrupts, interrupts, and breaks into our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways, calling us to deeper love, more committed discipleship, and even sometimes, to leave everything we know behind, to pick up our nets and follow the call.
The Gospel of Mark is notoriously light on details, and this passage is no different. Whereas other evangelists who share this story give us just a bit more to work with in setting this scene of Jesus calling the first disciples out of their boats and out of their lives and into the story of his ministry, Mark, true to form, keeps things exceptionally focused—which for us, might feel frustrating. It also might allow us the gift of decompressing this account and letting our witness enter here.
As a student and steward of Ignatian spirituality, I practice the notion of Ignatian discernment: prayerfully bringing decisions in our lives before God and imagining the outcomes of our choices in prayer. We don’t hear any of that in this story: there’s no pause or hesitation, and there’s no counsel sought from peers, partners, or mentors. It’s almost as if there is no decision made at all: “Immediately,” Mark says, “they left their nets.” One offer or command from Jesus, and they leave it all behind.
I wonder when in our lives we receive invitations that turn everything upside down, and we’re left with little else to do then pick up our nets and leave it all behind for God: the job layoff, the positive pregnancy test, the diagnosis, the love at first sight. God’s call to us and our compulsion to respond might not involve a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Still, it might very well involve the minutiae of our daily lives: parenthood, partnerships, jobs, the humanness of living in a body that is fragile and mortal. From within our lives but beyond our expectations and imaginations come invitations that compel us out of all we know and into a wilderness of holy surrender.
This isn’t the only time in the Gospels that Jesus and friends find themselves during a meaningful experience that involves a boat. And because boats show up so often in the Gospels, they’re an accessible image for me to work with in my ministry and spiritual direction with college students. My students are constantly on the threshold of new lives and deepening discipleship: they’re changing majors, falling in love, breaking up, considering jobs states away from where they grew up, and learning themselves, the world, and God anew during these rich, formative years. Before the steadiness of mature adulthood settles in, opportunity strikes often - should I apply for that program, pursue this person, move across town or across the world after graduation – and their decisions percolate with the potential of destiny. This means that my students are sometimes, in their own ways, picking up their nets, getting out of the boat, and leaving it all behind to go where God is calling them.This is upending, bewildering, and terrifying. But as I marvel at their faithfulness, their thoughtfulness, their trust, their surrender to what might await them on the other side of this uncertainty, what a wonder it is to affirm their courage in getting out of the boat. How many of us hold fast to familiarity, clinging with a white-knuckle grip to what we know, afraid of loosening our grasp, and opening our hands, hearts and selves to God?
Let us pray today for the courage to let go, pick up, and follow Jesus. And let us pray for those who are finding their sea legs as they answer the call to pick up their nets, get out of their boats and move more deeply into the lives God is calling them to live.
Marissa Papula (she/her) serves as the Director of Campus Ministry at Loyola Marymount University in California, where she gathers words, ideas, and people interested in making transcendent meaning out of our lived experiences. She previously served at the helm of the award-winning Boston College Kairos.
Formed and transformed by Jesuit education, Marissa holds her BA from The University of Scranton, and her MA and Post Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Formation from Boston College. Her academic and pastoral interests, and subjects of her speaking, writing, and presenting include Ignatian spirituality, theological anthropology, feminist theology, racial justice and LGBTQ+ ministry. Within and beyond her work, Marissa strives to notice the ineffable in the everyday, and harness the potential of good theology to liberate and transform lives, connections, and communities.
Originally hailing from New York’s Hudson Valley, Marissa builds her life between Los Angeles and Boston. She has probably read a Mary Oliver poem today.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
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