THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Venite post me...' Plaque, 1160-80,
English Champlevé enamel on gilded copper,
Cloisters Collection, The Met. New York
Nathan Evans singing his sea-shanty
Our First Reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Jonah. He has barely recovered from his fateful attempt to escape the mission given to him. As in Nathan's sea-shanty, there has been a storm at sea, a struggle, and Jonah ends up inside 'a great fish'. Understandably, he repents and turns to prayer. God instructs the fish to deliver Jonah to dry land and once again he is missioned to preach to Nineveh, 'a city great beyond compare'.
Jonah responds to God's call and preaches a message of repentance and conversion. His prophetic ministry is blessed with success. 'God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.' (Jonah 3;10)
The prophet's call to repentance was also the essence of the Baptist's preaching. In the Gospel passage, John has been arrested. His preaching ministry is now taken up by Jesus and there is a consistency in the message: 'The time has come' he said 'and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.' (Mark 1,15)
Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) Jonah Preaching in Nineveh
National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen
Casting an 'amphiblestron' net, the kind mentioned in Mark
Jesus sees Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting a net in the lake. The Greek word used, tells us exactly the kind of net in question. There were two types of nets used by fishermen: the sagene, a trawl-net, let out from the boat and weighted so that as the boat moved forward, the net would enclose numbers of fish. The net mentioned in the text today, is the amphiblestron. This was a much smaller net. It was skilfully cast into the water by hand and was shaped almost like an umbrella. The Gospel tells us that Simon and his brother were ἀμφιβάλλοντας, casting this net.
When Jesus calls them, they were about their normal work, catching fish and mending nets. We are reminded of God's call to many of the prophets.
'I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, "Go, prophesy to my people, Israel."' (Amos 7;14-15)
The call of God comes to us, each day, as we go about our daily chores. God asks us to follow him, where we are, not where we might dream of being. God needs us, as he needed Jonah, as he needed Simon and Andrew, to be followers of Jesus, now.
Raphael, Cartoon for a tapestry, 1515
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
In the past few days, the humble sea-shanty has taken on a dramatic new lease of life. When Nathan Evans, a young postman from Airdrie, recorded for a few friends The Wellerman, a 19th century sea-shanty about sailors in a long struggle with a whale, it probably never struck him that something over 7.5 million people would view his song on the video-sharing app, Tik Tok. Re-makes have already been recorded with the great and the good queueing up to sing along. Polydor records have now offered a contract to Nathan whose delivery rounds have been swapped for album recordings.
Many (of a certain age!) will remember learning sea-shanties at school as well as waulking-songs (songs sung by women when fulling, working or 'waulking' newly woven tweed to soften it. Like the sea-shanty, it involved rhythmically beating time to accompany repetitive work.)
This newly awakened interest in sea-shanties and the life and work of seafarers is timely, as our Readings this Sunday take us out to sea and into the lives of fishermen.
Jonah being cast into the mouth of the whale.
Mediaeval stained glass, Canterbury Cathedral.
The Gospel then takes us to the calling of the first apostles. Jesus chooses his closest disciples from the ordinary people, fishermen.
Josephus, one-time Governor of Galilee and noted historian, tells us that in his day there were three hundred and thirty fishing boats sailing on the waters of the lake. Ordinary people seldom ate meat. Fish was their staple diet. Usually the fish was salted because there was no means of conserving or transporting fresh fish. The very names of the towns on the lakeside show how important the fishing business was. Bethsaida means 'House of Fish'. Tarichaea means 'The Place of Salt Fish'. Fish would be salted and transported to Rome and elsewhere.
The Calling of Peter and Andrew, Maurice de Sully, 1320-1330
Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Calling of Peter and Andrew,
c.1308, The National Gallery of Art, Washington
Raphael's Cartoon realised in a completed tapestry.
This one (Flemish) 1519, is now in the Vatican Museums
Jesus' charge to Simon and Andrew, 'Follow me', requires a personal reaction and response to himself. It has been suggested that Simon and Andrew would have been aware of the presence and ministry of Jesus. His teaching impressed. His healing drew the crowds. When he approaches them, they would already have some idea of the kind of person and the lifestyle to which they were being called.
It is also relevant that they are called to a task. They are called to be co-workers with Christ in his mission of bringing the compassion of God to people.
Mark, always brief and succinct in his narrative, goes out of his way to repeat a word that defines the response of the disciple to Jesus' call. He underlines the adverb, εὐθὺς, 'immediately'. Jesus' invitation to follow him requires whole-hearted, complete, immediate compliance with God's will. The Gospels show us other half-hearted, conditional, self-interested responses, e.g. that of the rich young man who, unlike the disciples who just leave their nets, turns away and goes off 'sad, for he was a man of great wealth'. (Mark 10;22)
The Readings today encourage us to consider our discernment of God's call to us - in the course of each day. Do we run away from this, like Jonah, and choose to throw ourselves into all sorts of storms at sea? Are we at best half-hearted, holding tenaciously to our 'great wealth' of other concerns, attachments, interests?
Can we envisage Jesus watching us as we go about our daily tasks, looking at us with love and offering us the possibility of following, working with, loving him in return?
The Call of the Disciples
He calls us all to step aboard his ship,
Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,
Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,
Whatever storms or floods are threatening.
If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,
Then, as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,
For he is always with us and will hear
And make our peace with his creative Word,
Who made us, loved us, formed us and has set
All his beloved lovers in an ark;
Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float
Above the rising waves, the falling dark,
As fellow pilgrims, driven towards that haven,
Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.
Malcolm Guite – Sounding the Seasons
The Calling of Peter and Andrew, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sistine Chapel, Rome, 1481
This is a composite image, with the call and the blessing of Peter and Andrew.
Ghirlandaio uniquely has a crowd included in contemporary dress. This is the Florentine community in Rome, who resided near Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
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