Gospel reflection for Jan. 22, 2023, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus left Nazareth and moved to the bustling fishing village of Capernaum, the village where Simon and his brother, Andrew, also settled. This was an important fishing village and, although Jesus was not himself a fisherman, he settled there, awaiting the beginning of his ministry. 

What Jesus was doing in Capernaum is unclear to us, but it is likely that he was moving through the bazaar, and making himself known in the community. He would also have attended the synagogue and so has likely encountered Simon, Andrew, James, John, Zebedee, and a host of others who will figure in the ministry and life of Jesus going forward. He has yet to distinguish himself as a rabbi or as a worker of miracles. He is a new face in town, likely raising some curiosity from the locals, and assessing the situation he is in.

At some point shortly after his arrival news comes of the arrest of John the Baptizer. It is now that Jesus embarks on his own mission, yet clearly continuing the theme of the Baptizer: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

It is likely that Jesus attracts those who followed the Baptizer. It is probably too early for anyone to think that Jesus might be the coming Messiah of whom the Baptizer spoke. Later in the Gospel we get a sense that maybe even the Baptizer was himself uncertain about Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus began to develop his own following. 

We must imagine that among those who have heard Jesus preaching were these four young fishermen who owned their own boats and were establishing themselves in the marketplace of Capernaum. It is not unlikely that they were familiar with the preaching of the Baptizer and, as men desiring something more in their own lives as faithful Jews, were curious about this new preacher. 

One early morning these four men came into the docks after a long night fishing on Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee). They were assessing their catch and negotiating with the fishmongers as to the price of their haul. It was commerce as usual, an ordinary morning’s work. Tired and hungry, they were likely anxious to grab a quick meal and head off to sleep.

Then something seemingly ordinary happened. Jesus was walking along the shore.  They immediately recognized the preacher and greeted him with the customary shalom. 

What seemed to be just a casual encounter took an extraordinary and life changing turn. Jesus looked at this crew and simply said: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once -- immediately -- without hesitation, these four men walked away from all they had worked for and followed Jesus.

Biblical scholars have addressed the question for 2,000 years as to why this invitation from Jesus elicited such a dramatic response. Although interesting, every commentary seems too simplistic. What does it mean to be a “fisher of men? If someone said that to anyone of us today, we would naturally have some questions as to what this could possibly mean. Therefore, there must be something idiomatic to the invitation that has been lost from Aramaic to Greek. The call resonated deep within them; they knew what they were being called to do. Likewise, due to their familiarity with the Baptizer and having already heard Jesus speak, they are ready, even anxious, to take this encounter with him. 

The response of these men is immediate and seems to be understood as well by Zebedee whose sons respond to the call. The invitation to follow Jesus always takes on a specific and personal character, one that we must carefully discern.

For our own part, we all have a call unique to us to become a disciple of Jesus; to become a fisher of men and women. It is through faithful lives of steady discipleship, our reading of Scripture, and those casual encounters with Jesus, that we are invited into a deeper relationship with him. At the right moment, at the moment that Jesus decides, he walks near to each one of us and says directly: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men (and women).”

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