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THE REASONS FOR FOLLOWING JESUS

Father Francis's picture
Third Week of Ordinary Time

Mt. 4:12-23

How did Zebedee, the father of James and John, feel when Jesus invited his sons to leave their livelihood and follow Him. Was he disappointed? Had he built up his business for his sons, hoping that one day when he retired they would be ready to take it over? Did he think that his sons were making a big mistake and throwing their lives away?

He must have seen how excited his boys were when they got to know Jesus. We can imagine He was all they talked about. So when He asked them to follow Him it came as no surprise to see them leave home and their work. Who was their father to put obstacles in their way? Besides I am sure he knew that if this new venture did not work out they could always return to their profession!

How different are some parents to Zebedee, especially if they have an only child. I have known some parents who have been heartbroken when their son or daughter has told them that they have a priestly or religious vocation. Often their parents' first thought is, ‘And we thought that you would give us grandchildren.’ Some parents would even think that their son or daughter is throwing their life away having expected him or her to get a well paid 9 to 5 job with good secure prospects.
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Why do people follow Jesus to live a priestly or religious life? I think for two reasons. The first is that they have a deep personal need to give themselves to God and His service. In most cases they were searching for what to do with their lives and God invited them to follow Him. They felt this need to be fulfilled.

If James and John had only needed food, they had that in abundance. The Sea of Galilee was full of fish and they knew how to catch them. They needed more than food and so do we. This is what distinguishes us from animals. We also need music, books and art. Some have a need to explore the moon and the stars, and so build telescopes to see them. We need high purposes and a great faith if we are going to be fulfilled in life. Many people have become followers of Christ for one reason only and that is they needed Him. This was so with James and John. They considered that there was more to life than just fishing.

The second reason why people follow Jesus is the appeal of a great adventure. You could say that whole of life is an adventure. When children start school they are not sure what to expect and have no idea where it will lead. Getting an education is an adventure. When a young person chooses a career or a vocation there is no certainty as to what the outcome will be. Can he or she do the work? And enjoy it? Will it provide a good living? And for how long? Some of those questions can be thought through in advance; others have to be gradually discovered.

Choosing a vocation is an adventure. I certainly never knew what was in store for me when I became a friar and a priest. I am sure all those who are married can say the same about their marriage.

When a man and woman get married they have no guarantee of a good relationship and happy home. If they are sensible and mature they will have given much thought to their future and hope everything will turn out for the best. Getting married is an adventure. They find themselves expecting a child and their adventure unfolds even more. Will the baby be a boy or a girl? Will he or she be healthy? Will they be equal to the challenges of parenthood? What will the child become? Will he or she be a source of happiness or heartache? Nobody knows the answers to these questions! They must be lived through and worked out in ways which are thrilling and demanding, frightening and yet appealing. Life at its best is an adventure.

So it is with following Christ in the religious life. You can think about it. Read about it. You can listen to the testimonies of others and study the lives of the saints, but eventually you have to see where He will lead. Is it really true, as Jesus says, that we find life by losing it? Is it possible to love all people, even your enemies? Will He provide for our needs even as He feeds the birds in the air and clothes the flowers of the field?

Sometimes we in the Church present the Christian faith as if it were no more than the passive acceptance of a formal creed. It is much more than that! James and John forsook their livelihood for more than that! Jesus invited them to join Him in a way of life that took courage to begin and fortitude to continue. His personality was so magnetic that they wanted to be drawn into His company. They found the challenge exciting. That is why they abandoned both father and their fishing to follow Him. People are still doing that today.

So people follow Jesus for two reasons: a deep sense of personal need and the thrill of a great adventure. Following Christ has to be the most thrilling, worthwhile and rewarding occupation in the world. You don't have to be a priest or a religious to experience this. Everyone married or unmarried can follow Jesus and experience the adventure of a lifetime.

Lord Jesus, we pray that more and more people will experience Your magnetic personality and so follow You, enjoying the adventure of a lifetime.

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