Fr. Francis Scaria
We read in the Bible that Jesus saw two fishermen - Simon and his brother Andrew. He called them to follow Him. They left their nets and followed Him. (cf. Mt 4:18-22) Later, he saw the two sons of Zebedee, who were also fishermen, mending their nets. He called them too and they left their boat and their father and followed him. (cf. Mt 4:21-22) Matthew the Tax-collector too was called by Jesus and he left his tax office and followed Jesus (cf. Mt 9:9). Although the Bible does not record the story of the vocation promotion of other disciples, there is sufficient reason to believe that they too did have similar calls from the Lord and they responded to the call.
One of the most intriguing descriptions of God’s call is to be traced in 1 Kings 16:19-21. Elijah was the vocation promoter of Elisha. In 1 Kings 19:16, God tells Elijah, “you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place”. Following the command of the Lord, Elijah goes in search of Elisha and finds him ploughing the field with a yoke of oxen. Ejiah threw his mantle over Elisha. Elisha “took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant”. (1 Kings 19:21). Elisha destroyed the yoke and the oxen and there is no question of going ever back.
We do not find the apostles destroying their boats or nets. Would they be expected to do that? It is difficult to answer. A further reflection would probably make us whisper, “It would have been better for them to destroy their boats and nets”. Why do I say that? In the post-resurrection scene depicted in John 21, we see Peter going back to the boat and the nets. Further, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two unnamed disciples also went with him. In all, they numbered seven, more than half of the chosen disciples. It is not without a solid intention that the evangelist mentions that they caught ‘nothing’ (Jn 21:20). Jesus, at the end of the encounter with them, would utter those very same words "follow me" once again to Peter (cf. Jn 21:19).
Jesus demands a very strong commitment from his disciples. He says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk 9:62). He never allured people with empty promises to become his disciples. On the contrary, he frankly shared with them all that discipleship meant and the cross that it will turn out to be. Some disciples said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (Jn 6:60) Jesus did not use pleasing words to prevent them from going away. We are told by the evangelist “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn6:66). Jesus who knew well that the harvest was plentiful and the labourers were few, did not offer incentives to get more labourers. Jesus wants quality in discipleship, not quantity. He turns to the twelve and asks them very pointedly, “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67) Peter speaks on behalf of the twelve who stood by, “"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (Jn 6:68-69). Peter voiced the sentiments of the Apostles while other disciples remained silent. Does their silence mean assent? One is not sure! We cannot forget that Judas too was among those who were silent.
When we reflect on priestly and religious vocation in today’s world, a question inescapably arises: Have I abandoned my boat and the nets once and for all? Does the memory of the fishing days disturb me at times? Would it not have been better for me to kill the oxen and my equipments like Elisha that I would not be tempted to go back even in thoughts to what I have vowed to have abandoned for the sake of the Lord and His kingdom? Does our formation today make space for a re-enactment of the story of the confrontation of the truth as described in John 6. Or do we worry too much about the numbers and allow people to follow even with their boats and nets. Imagine Elisha following Elijah taking the yoke of oxen along! We need to look into our formation houses and even our presbyteries and religious houses for such boats and nets, oxen and equipment which are thought to be useful in the rainy days. Remember, the disciples who went back to their boats and nets caught ‘nothing’. The carpenter had to help fishermen to catch fish! May the Lord of the Harvest make us his single-minded and committed disciples.
MUSINGS : 1-25,