There is a preference in the American imagination for “doing” over “being.” We extol that which is practical, looking askance at mere theory. Our heroes are titans of industry, medical researchers who cure illness and professional athletes. We love “doers.”
In the Gospel today, the Church remembers that everything we do in the name of the Lord comes first, not from our own personal initiative but an encounter with Jesus. After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus withdraws to Galilee, a land separated from the city of Jerusalem by Samaria, distant from the religious powers of the day. It was a land that was both Jewish and Gentile.
Jesus’ withdrawal is thus the beginning of his mission of bringing all the nations to Jerusalem. He comes to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah promised. The once-conquered kingdoms of Zebulun and Naphtali, destroyed by the Assyrians, will be the place where the glorious light of the kingdom of God will shine: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1).
And the light does shine in this land as Jesus announces to the nations, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Yet, Jesus’ call to join him in the Gospels is not simply directed at the universal. It reaches the particular. It comes to each and every person.
Walking near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encounters two brothers — Andrew and Peter. They’re both involved in labor. Fishing is their profession, how they feed their family, how they find meaning in society.
Jesus meets them, interrupting their doing and invites them to radical becoming: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).
Jesus proclaims to them, come after me, and find a new way of life. Leave everything and become like me. Participate in my mission of shedding light in the darkness. Join my pilgrimage, a journey that will lead to the cross.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t say all this. Perhaps if he had, Peter and Andrew, James and John would not have followed. But they do. There is something about the encounter with Jesus that woos them, such that they give up profession and family alike to become “fishers of men.”
Today, Jesus still speaks to us, shedding his light and salvation upon the world (cf. Ps 27:1). Unlike Peter and Andrew, we are well aware of the consequences of this call. We know that to become a fisher of men is to become like Jesus: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
To become a fisher of men is to thus become a student of the wise foolishness of the cross.
But we cannot do this on our own. We cannot learn this wisdom through sheer force of effort, through “doing” over “being.”
We must give ourselves over to the sweet discipline of our common life in the Church, where we learn to listen to the voice of the Lord as proclaimed in the Scriptures, as manifested in the lives of those on the margins, as made present in the Eucharistic worship of the Church.
Christ still calls. He calls you. He calls me. He calls every person on earth to follow him, leading a pilgrimage of all humanity toward Zion itself.
But first, we must become like our teacher.
Stop doing. Start being.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.