Many of us, at one time or another, dream of leaving everything behind. All the ties and responsibilities that nail us down, all the daily drudge, our half-heartedness about our work or our families, the weight of our past and our failures, all the things which define us.
It would be so simple to simply dump all the baggage of life, disappear, and start again in another place with a new passport and a Swiss bank account. In our fantasies, running away from everything would free us to start again as a new person, to become someone else more intelligent, more successful, popular or better looking.
In the Gospel, four fishermen leave everything behind, all the ties and bonds of work and family, to follow Jesus. But they leave everything in response to a call:
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
Jesus doesn't offer them a career, as carpenters, soldiers or tax collectors. He isn't offering them exciting new love affairs, or friendships unencumbered by the weight of failure and misunderstanding.
The call of discipleship isn't an attempt to recreate a new set of ties and bonds of love and responsibility, to escape all that defines and provides identity. It is a call to discover that God given identity in a new way, in the crimson dawn of salvation in the words and actions of Jesus.
I will make you fishers of men.
The call to follow establishes a relationship between what the disciples are now, and what they are to become. Their ordinary work, drawing sustenance from the darkness of the sea, becomes a sign of a deeper reality, drawing men and women from the darkness of sin and death, into the torrent of wind and flame manifested at Pentecost.
That which defines them now is not bypassed or ignored, but becomes the scene of an urgent call to a deeper self-understanding, the call of grace. So the disciples don't leave fishing nets and boats upon the shore so that they can escape the daily struggle to make a living. Nor do James and John leave their dad sitting in the boat because they've grown tired of him, or can't afford a retirement home.
Grace does not take us from one identity to another, but opens out a new and surprising depth of identity in the life of God. The disciples then leave everything behind not to escape, but to discover the true depths of the Spirit's call. This Spirit, pouring from the Risen Christ, doesn't replace our natural desires and hopes. Sharing in the Divine life does not mean that we are not called to live a fully human life.
Grace, then, begins to manifest itself in the reality of our lives, in those things which define us, make us who we are: but within these things it sounds an urgent call, a call to discover how much more we are, to understand ourselves in the gracious newness breaking into the world in the risen body of Jesus.
For some, like the disciples in the Gospel, this call will require a leaving behind. In religious life, Christian men and women do not go in search of a fantasy life, but a life defined by the bonds and responsibilities of grace, of the new human community of the church formed at Pentecost.
But for most people, the call will not require a complete leaving behind, but an expanded vision of who we are, and our value in God's plan. The call of Jesus to repent, because the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, is a call not to allow sin, and all the failures of life, to define us. For from our baptism we have been caught up, hooked into this new age of grace, where we may swim freely.
The urge to escape who we are often weighs very heavily upon us. But there are no real clean slates in this life: who we are is intimately bound up with those we live with, those who have cared for us or hurt us, with the ways of making a living and passing our time we have settles for.
The call of God's grace doesn't offer us a new identity, the fanstasy life we have always longed for. The call to be a disciple is a call to move to an even deeper understanding of who we are, who we are called to be, in the self-giving of God in the cross of Jesus, and the hurricane of glory which finally transformed simple fishermen into fishers of men.