January 21, 2018 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
I delivered the following homily today at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
As the kids were growing up, I missed out on many things while I was at work. When I came home in the evening, I looked forward to being filled in on the events of the day – both the good and the bad.
The kids shared details of the fun events I missed out on, bubbling over with excitement as each shared his or her version of the activities of the day. More often than not, I would hear multiple versions of the same basic story. The characters in the story and the general timeline of events were the same. However, each version of the story, told from a unique perspective, offered slightly different details and focus.
Or perhaps there was a disagreement of some kind. Such disagreements were usually centered around personal property, invasion of space, or some other issue critically important to children.
I would hear both sides of the disagreement – both children were victims of course, no one was ever at fault. Then Carol would weigh in with her take on the squabble. No one’s version was wrong or dishonest, each was simply telling the story from his or her own perspective.
This idea of multiple versions of the same story came to mind as I read today’s gospel.
I read Mark’s gospel story of Andrew and Peter being called as disciples and said to myself, “Wait a minute…didn’t we hear this same story last week?” It wasn’t the same Gospel reading, but the same story.
I double-checked and sure enough, last Sunday we heard John’s version of this very same story – Jesus calling Andrew and Peter to be disciples.
This raised two questions: First, why are there two different gospels offering the same basic story? And second, the broader question, why did theologians and scholars bother to include four gospels in the New Testament, with multiple versions of many of the same stories?
The answer to both questions is perspective and focus.
In John’s gospel last week, Andrew heard John the Baptist refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Andrew then listened to Jesus speak for a time, and was convinced He was the Messiah. He ran and got his brother, Peter, and brought him to Jesus and both Andrew and Peter were called to be disciples.
In Mark’s gospel today, we have the same characters and same basic timeline, but the details included in the telling of the story give it a different focus.
Jesus came across fishermen Andrew and Peter as He passed the Sea of Galilee. He called them with the simple message of “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We are told Andrew and Peter “abandoned their nets and followed him.”
John emphasized Jesus as Lord and focused on the honor of being called to be a disciple of Jesus.
Mark emphasized Andrew and Peter’s response to the call, a response that showed an immediate and unwavering faith. Notice they did not pack up their nets and place them neatly in their boat. They did not tie up their boat and cover it until they returned. The emphasis is in the details. We are told they abandoned their nets. They never planned to return to their former life again. Following Jesus was their new vocation and they were all in.
Two perspectives on the same story. John’s details focus on Jesus and the call. Mark’s details focus on Andrew and Peter and their response.
As to our second question, the broader question – why are four gospels included in the New Testament?
The naïve thought might be that there were only four gospels available, so those charged with compiling scripture decided to keep all four to make it easier. The fact is, at the time the canon of the New Testament was assembled, over fifty gospels had been written. Rather than choose one, they were inspired by God to choose four gospels – four gospels that gave the reader four different perspectives and focused on different aspects of Jesus, His ministry, and His followers.
Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, emphasized Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
Luke portrayed Jesus as the answer to the world’s problems, emphasizing His perfect humanity and His concern for the weak, the suffering, and the outcast.
As for the two gospel writers we are discussing today, John emphasized the divinity of Jesus. His gospel was written with the specific purpose of providing us with a foundation for our trust in Jesus – to give us confidence. In the story of the calling of Andrew and Peter, we hear John the Baptist announce Jesus as the Lamb of God, and recognize that we can trust Him when we are called.
Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus as a servant – one willing to suffer and die for the good of others. More importantly perhaps, it emphasizes that we too must be servants. We are called to be disciples of Jesus, people who are willing to follow His example. Thus, in today’s Gospel Jesus said to Andrew and Peter, “Come after me” and they immediately abandoned their nets and followed Him.
When listening to my kids recap their day, I would never have listened to only one child’s version. I would never have said to the second child, “Don’t bother telling me, I already know the story.” The second child had a unique perspective. Each version of the story had its own purpose and value.
When we hear a familiar gospel story, we shouldn’t tune out by saying, “I already know that story.” We listen for the purpose of the author. We value the perspective offered. We listen carefully to the details – What does the gospel writer, what does God, want us to hear?
Last week, God wanted us to know, from John’s perspective, that we can trust in His Son’s call.
Knowing we can trust in His Son’s call, today God wants us to know, from Mark’s perspective, that we must respond. We must abandon our nets and leave our former life behind. We must be all in.
We can never hear that story too often.