The ministry of John the Baptist serves as a focal point for the Gospel reading for Jan. 24, 2021. Photo from Shutterstock.com
The ministry of John the Baptist serves as a focal point for the Gospel reading for Jan. 24, 2021. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel Reflection for Jan. 24, 2021, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In a one-line prelude to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry St. Mark notes: “After John had been arrested …”

We have been hearing from John the Baptizer for a good part of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Nothing of what we had read so far, albeit a brief introduction to the Gospel, prepared the reader for John’s arrest. Mark’s comment, then, seems to serve a few purposes within the Gospel.

First, it is a statement of a fact, John was arrested. We will later learn as to why. Mark also seems he wants us to know that the ministries of John and Jesus did not overlap. Once the Messiah is on the scene, he no longer needs a herald. It is also important that John and Jesus are not seen as rivals. They are not competing for the attention of the crowds. Presumably, many who followed John are now following Jesus. They were prepared to heed the call of the Messiah, and now do so without abandoning John.

It is likely, however, that there is another and very subtle, though important, message that Mark is sending at the outset of Jesus’ ministry. If John, who stood in the wilderness, baptizing and announcing the coming of the Messiah, is arrested, then what will become of the Messiah? Should we not expect that the same fate would befall him as well? By pointing out the arrest of the Baptizer, Mark is preparing the reader of the Gospel for the ending – Jesus, too, will be arrested. Later in the Gospel, Mark goes into specific detail about the murder of the Baptizer and it is there that the entire tone of the Gospel changes. We can see, then, that Mark uses the Baptizer as a precursor to Jesus in several ways: in announcing his coming, in being arrested prior to the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry, and then in his martyrdom which foreshadows the Crucifixion.

Scholars often refer to Mark’s Gospel as the Passion of Jesus Christ with a brief introduction due to the brevity of the Gospel leading up to the Paschal events. It is John the Baptist who shows the way throughout the Gospel.

What do we make, then, of the expectations of these ordinary fishermen who today we hear called to follow Jesus as fishers of men? They must know John has been arrested. Can they reasonably expect anything different will also befall Jesus? The Gospel writer prepares us for the Crucifixion, but knowing the end of the Gospel only helps us to enter into the depth of Jesus’ ministry even more fully.

There is another important lesson we glean from hearing about this encounter between Jesus and the Galilean fishermen. These men are typical Jewish men of their time. They were likely very familiar with the Scriptures and other religious writings that served to interpret the Jewish laws during that period. We are certain, given what we heard in the Gospel last week, that they were among the disciples of John the Baptizer, so at least for Andrew, there existed a desire for a deeper relationship with God. As St. Peter’s house in Capernaum is very close to the site of the local synagogue, we might expect that Peter must have been a regular at the gatherings there each Sabbath.

It is because of their familiarity with the Word of God that their hearts were disposed to understand and respond to the heralding of the “Lamb of God” by John.

In this week’s Gospel, these fishermen, coming in from a long night of work, abandon their nets in hopes of becoming “fishers of men” instead. Immediately they cast their nets aside to follow Jesus. What was the attraction? We might presume that they were attuned to the eschatological language that Jesus employs and, with a likely reference to Jeremiah’s promise, that the Lord would call forth fishermen to do his bidding, they were ready to take up the challenge.

Nothing suggests that they knew anything of Jesus beforehand. It was the persuasive tone of his language that set their hearts to be ready to respond to the call.

That is true for all of us. Because we know the ending of the Gospel we can live our lives in hope and  the more we open our hearts and minds to the call of the Lord in and for us, the greater will be our response, leading the Lord to be ever more generous in bestowing his gifts to us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.