The Carpenter Fisherman
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Jesus Christ was a carpenter by trade. The apostles James and John were fishermen. Yet on at least one occasion He showed Himself the better fisherman – teaching them how to present the bait, set the hook and land the fish. It just happens that James and John were the fish He caught.
First, He presents the bait. Our Lord’s own goodness lures James and John. The dignity of His sacred humanity draws those sensible, hardworking men away from their business, to follow Him (cf Mk 1:20). They desire not only to follow Him and behold His glory but also to have a share in that glory: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (Mk 10:37).
As Our Lord makes clear, they “do not realize what they are asking” (Mk 10:38). They think of His glory in worldly, earthly terms. They imagine themselves reigning with Him in Jerusalem over the re-established kingdom of Israel. Like fish chasing a lure, the brothers chase after what they think they want.
Then, He sets the hook. Now that Jesus has led the “Sons of Thunder” to desire His glory, He elicits from them a commitment to attain that glory: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:39) And they bite, “We can” (Mk 10:39. Now they have committed themselves to Him and to His mission.
Finally, with that commitment expressed, He reels them in: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mk 10:39). Thus they come to be sharers in Our Lord’s passion and death. James becomes the first martyr among the apostles, and John stands faithfully at the foot of the cross.
Centuries earlier Jeremiah had lamented, “You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be dupted” (Jer 20:7). Perhaps James and John felt similarly. They approached Our Lord with a request for worldly glory; they departed having committed themselves to share in His redemptive suffering. Not quite what they expected. Better.
This is not a warning against asking the Lord for something. Rather, it is a wonderful illustration of how He takes the imperfect in us and turns it to good – even to greatness. We all approached Him, as did James and John, with imperfect motives. We ask for things – perhaps even good things – partly from devotion, partly from selfishness. We do not know what we are asking. But our mixed motives do not deter Him. He draws us to Himself by motives less than perfect and brings us gradually – purifying our motives, deepening our understanding – to Himself.
Thus a sick man might begin to pray simply out of fear of dying. But by degrees he will find himself praying out of love. A young man will enter the seminary with wooden, worldly notions of the priesthood . . . and years later be drawn to the depth of it. God often draws a man and woman together by shallow, superficial considerations (physical attraction, common interests, etc.), but in the sacrament of matrimony He leads them to a deeper, sacrificial love.
Yet as good as He is at fishing for souls, He cannot catch us without our consent. We need to allow Him to draw us to Himself – indeed, ask Him to do so.
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