Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
In 1957, Reader’s Digest published a short item by an obscure writer named Allen Saunders. It ended up becoming a piece of popular wisdom that has been re-quoted, reused and repurposed countless times. “Life,” Saunders wrote, “is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
Well. Who could disagree? How many of us spend our time scribbling bucket lists, saving for a rainy day, plotting for a future that seems like it will never arrive? We spend our time dreaming instead of doing. Too often — like the men by the seashore in today’s Gospel — we are busy mending our nets.
And then everything changes.
This Gospel is fundamentally about answering the call of Christ, whenever and however it comes. But look closely. There’s more going on. It is also about letting go of one thing to seize another; it challenges us to think more deeply about what we do with the time we’re given.
It’s significant, I think, that the author of the Gospel described what those fishermen were doing when Jesus walked by. They had jobs, obligations, distractions, responsibilities. Like all of us, they had things to get done.
Then, at an unexpected moment, something — someone — entered their lives. On an otherwise unremarkable day, in the middle of the tedious chores of life, in a place where days were measured by tides and currents and how many fish you catch, God walked by.
Suddenly, nothing was the same.
It happened then. It is happening now.
Maybe we’re preoccupied with our jobs, our hobbies, getting bills paid and meals cooked and tearing another page off the calendar so we can do it all over again. But wait: is there something else we’re supposed to be doing? Is someone calling us to something else?
Are we so concerned about the ordinary that we miss the extraordinary? Looked at another way: What are our nets?
This Gospel serves as a bracing reminder that God can enter our lives when we least expect it, and what happens next may lead us where we never imagined. Did any of those fishermen foresee this? “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.”
Miracles await! But we need to be attentive, open, ready for God to interrupt our lives and alter their direction. This Gospel declares: Be prepared to put aside our nets and follow where the Lord leads.
It isn’t easy. It can be terrifying. Discipleship comes at a cost, as every apostle discovered. But we cannot forget that the Christmas season persists. Even all these weeks later, Emmanuel remains! God is with us. We do not walk alone. The Father is looking after his children.
In 1980, John Lennon wrote a love song to his young son, Sean, called “Beautiful Boy,” and he offered this wisdom, the consoling words of a father to his child in a moment of uncertainty and wonder and unknowing:
“Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way, it’s getting better and better.”
Then, with tenderness and love, the song offers that wisdom from Allen Saunders:
“Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Those are welcome words of reassurance for a frightened child, or to men tending their nets, or to an anxious, worried, hesitant follower of Jesus.
“Come after me,” he says today, as he said nearly 2,000 years ago.
Drop the net. Let go. Risk. Do not be afraid. It will be worth it.
Imagine him saying, “Give me your calloused hand and let me take you someplace new. Come after me.”
Who knows what miracles may be waiting?
Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog “The Deacon’s Bench.” He serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn.