Opening the Word: The dread of fishing


Bad preachers spin the Gospel into charming moral tales. The Gospels resist this reduction. And the Gospel of Mark fights against this moralizing aura most of all.

John the Baptist is arrested. The reader is initiated into the world of the prophets, who are regularly rejected by religious authorities. John must be silenced.

Out of this silence comes the timber-shattering voice of Jesus: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).

In Israel, there had been other times. But with the advent of Jesus, the final time of judgment has commenced. The kingdom of God has arrived.

What is this kingdom? It is the kingdom where God’s law alone reigns. Where power and prestige are defeated by the merciful and just love of the almighty God. It is the kingdom where all nations will be invited into Jerusalem, to partake in Israel’s covenant.

And the time of fulfillment demands repentance. It requires conversion.

The Gospel, the good news that the kingdom of God has come, is not quaint in the least. It demands that we, those who hear the word of Our Lord, change our very lives. Immediately.

Without nary a transition, Mark takes us from the announcement of the kingdom to the call of the first disciples. Jesus speaks, and they follow. They abandon everything to follow Jesus. To become fishers of men.

We are tempted to adopt a moralizing tone once more for the Gospel. To be a fisher of men is to participate in the work of discipleship, inviting others into the kingdom. But not so fast.

In the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, fishermen are God’s agents of judgment. They come to gather up the fish of the kingdom of Judah. Not all the fish are good. Some must be thrown away.

The disciples are called to announce this time of final judgment when God will be all in all.

And we, the Church, are the community of these disciples. But are we fishers of men?

St. Paul instructs us on the attitude we must possess if we are to be divine fishermen.

To live in the fullness of time is to recognize that time is running out. Addressing the Corinthians, Paul teaches, “For the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).

Do we, as the Church, live as those aware that the end is near? I suspect that we, and here I mean the entire People of God including the clergy and all the baptized faithful, are often forgetful of God’s judgment.

It is more pleasant to run our parish programs and to be liked by our fellow parishioners.

But that is not the Gospel. God’s judgment calls for conversion. And that conversion starts with us.

Do we rise early in the morning to praise the God who created the stars of heaven? Do we remember the poor, greeting them as Christ among us? If we are priests or bishops, do we govern as Christ would, or are we more interested in the pomp of power and faux-religious celebrity? If we are married, do we see our spouse as the love of Christ and the Church made manifest? Do we follow our children toward holiness, no matter the cost? Do we have an insatiable desire for the mercy and righteousness of God?

These are the attitudes of those who live in the end times. And this, dear friends, is the Gospel. Not the pious platitudes of pleasant preachers.

Repent, the kingdom of God is here.

January 24 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jon 3:1-5, 10
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Cor 7:29-31
Mk 1:14-20


This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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