Mike’s Meditations: Are You Radical?

by Mike Van Vranken

Recently a new English translation of the New Testament was published with the intention of creating the most literal rendering of those sacred writings. The purpose, in part, was to highlight the belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires a much more radical conversion and transformation than most of us have experienced. While many critics have already analyzed this work, our question today has to be: “How have I responded to the gospel demands of missionary discipleship?’
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus called Andrew and Peter. They abandoned their fishing nets and followed him. He then called James and John, who did the same; even leaving their father and all the hired hands. Jesus said they would become “fishers of men.” Do you think you know what that means?

In Amos 4:1-2, the prophet says those who oppress the destitute and abuse the needy will be dragged away with ropes and fishhooks. And in his work, the prophet Ezekiel condemns the powerful Pharoah saying God will put hooks in his jaws and make all the fish of the Nile cling to his scales. Now Jesus, using these Old Testament prophets as his source, invites his disciples to join him in his mission to change the existing conditions where the rich, powerful and privileged rule over everyone else. Jesus’ “fishers of men” left their world behind and spent the rest of their lives proclaiming that, in the reign of God that Jesus preaches, everyone is equal. Living the good news meant working for change wherever socio-economic relationships were distorted between the haves and the have-nots.

You and I are called to this same ministry; this same missionary discipleship. Every gospel account shows that Jesus called plain, ordinary people to be his disciples. They were not educated, nor were they perfectly moral men and women. They were free to choose to accept or reject what Jesus was offering. This is the same choice that you and I face every day. How radically are we working each day to be “fishers of men” – to bring equality to the citizens of our community?

Pope John Paul II said: “No one can say that he is not responsible for the well-being of his brother or sister” in his encyclical Centesimus Annus in 1991. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said acts of charity must not replace our commitment to social justice. He went on to say that true social justice happens when we live and work for one another. And in his 2013 Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says we must help the poor with spiritual gifts as well as economic.

From Jesus’ time to today, church leaders continue to remind us of our radical need to take care of each other both spiritually and materially. As St. Ambrose said: “It’s not from your own possessions that you bestow alms on the poor, you are restoring to them what is theirs by right.”

It seems to me, the Gospel of Jesus may very well be more radical than we currently believe. Maybe we’ve been lulled to sleep and we no longer recognize the lifestyle demands Jesus made on us. Perhaps we’ve become experts at trivializing all that he said. Now seems to be a good time to ask: “As a missionary disciple, how well have I become a fisher of men?”

This month, let’s spend some time listening in prayer rather than talking. As we begin our time with God each day, let’s ask Him how he wants us to be transformed today to be His missionary disciples. Then, spend about 15 minutes or so just listening – staying quiet. Allow Him to work on your emotions, your feelings, and your imagination, and ask Him what it all means. Listen carefully to what seems to be moving within you. Ask God for the grace to radically transform you each day so you can do what He’s asking of you. The changes may seem slow and incremental. But in the process, you’ll do much more than catch men – you’ll change the world.

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