Imagine for just a moment that you are one of the first disciples. This is not an easy task. After all, we cannot truly fathom what it was like to live in Galilee 2,000 years ago as Jesus walked the earth. But let’s take a moment and put ourselves in the place of Simon, Andrew, James and John – the first four disciples Jesus called.
Employers in the fishing industry, a major business of the time, these four men were engaged in a hard day’s work when Jesus approached them.
“As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and His brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they left their nets and followed Him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then He called them, so they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him” (Mk. 1:16-20).
Those men were called to leave all they knew – their careers and even their families, because Christ is more important, and His call, namely that they be “fishers of men,” was to be their first priority. They were to leave the comfort of their surroundings and follow Christ. And they did just what He asked and immediately answered His call.
We cannot truly imagine what it would have been like for Jesus, the God-man, to walk up to us as we were fishing and call out to us by name. But we ought to try and put ourselves in the place of those first disciples. After all, in truth, Christ calls us in the same way today. He calls each of us to put Him before all else – before our careers and before our families. We are, first and foremost, to be Christ’s disciples, following Him wherever He may lead us, and calling others to do the same.
When we reflect on the implications of this call, it can be incredibly tough for us to swallow, especially in our positions as leaders in the parish.
True, for most of us, this call does not come at the expense of our secular careers or our family members. We are not, for the most part, called to leave the comfort of our homes for a missionary life. But we all are called to follow Christ sacrificially, using everything we are and everything we have for His greater glory and the building of His kingdom. It does entail a life of total self-sacrifice.
As leaders in our parish, we have taken on a greater responsibility as “fishers of men” than many of our fellow parishioners. We have accepted the challenge to serve others in a very public way, leading them to a deeper relationship with Christ, calling them to give of themselves as disciples.
And leading begins by setting an example.
We must ask ourselves: have I given my life completely to the Lord? Does He come first in my life to the point that I have to sacrifice myself for His service? Am I doing everything I can to serve Christ or just what I am comfortable with? And then: Am I using my position as a parish leader to show Christ to others and bring others closer to Him?
Our responsibilities as parish leaders involve encouraging others to serve as part of our ministries, coordinating meetings and events for the particular ministries, and keeping track of who is involved. Yet, we ought not view our service as parish leaders in a mere “task-completing” sort of way. Sure, those responsibilities are real and incredibly important, but we must recognize that our jobs as parish leaders extend far beyond simply “getting things done” and “making our ministries bigger.”
We ought to be setting an example for the rest of our parish community. We ought to be leading them in the ways of discipleship. Therefore, we have to be, first and foremost, living as Christ’s disciples ourselves. Then, Christ will use us as His leaders, to bear witness to His truth, and we will call others on in ways that we cannot even imagine.
This will, undoubtedly, require an immense amount of self-sacrifice. It may even take many of us out of our comfort zones, as we seek to really listen to Christ’s call on our lives and answer it wholeheartedly. But giving our lives over to God in such a way will most definitely reap more fruit for the kingdom of God than we could ever reap on our own.
Look, again, at the response of those first disciples. Upon Christ’s call, they immediately left their nets and followed Him. And they became four of the 12 apostles. They became pillars of the Church. Through their self-sacrifice, they built the Church, and, 2,000 years later, we still look to their example for strength and encouragement. They still call us on.
They are, even today, fishers of men.
Perhaps if we heed the call Christ has placed on our lives, particularly as leaders in our parish community, we will be able to serve the Church in much the same way – building the kingdom of God here on Earth.