The call to conversion and the proclamation of the Kingdom put us in the perspective of a “brief time” that should be lived with sights on eternity.


Gospel of Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: 15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 16 As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Then they abandoned their nets and followed Him. 19 He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. 20 Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him (Mk 1:14-20).

I – To Live in Time from the Perspective of Eternity

God’s communication with man—particularly in the key episodes narrated in Sacred Scripture—is the point of departure from which history unfolds. How marvellous it would be to have a panoramic view of all the wonders of divine action across the centuries, from the great belvedere of eternity, which we only abandon during the fleeting moment between our birth and our death! But given that we live within time, this is not possible. Nevertheless, we also make up part of history and are intimately linked with everything that came before us, as well as the present and the future. How can we, then, unite ourselves to God’s presence in every era?

The Liturgy enables us to relive salvation history

What a marvel is the Liturgy! It helps us to participate not only in the celebrated events, but even in the same graces granted for each of them, as Pope Pius XII affirms in the Encyclical Mediator Dei: “The liturgical year, devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church, is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age. It is, rather, Christ Himself Who is ever living in His Church. Here He continues that journey of immense mercy which He lovingly began in His mortal life, going about doing good (cf. Acts 10:38), with the design of bringing men to know His mysteries and in a way live by them. These mysteries are ever present and active, and not in a vague and uncertain way.”1

A month and a half ago, the new Liturgical Cycle commenced with the period of Advent. During this four-week period—dedicated to penance and asking forgiveness for our sins—we relive humanity’s wait for the arrival of the Messiah. Accordingly, it links us with the millennia that elapsed between the departure of Adam and Eve from Paradise and the birth of the Redeemer. Overflowing with the joy that comes from the conviction that we are on the cusp of change, and that things will take on a new focus, we welcome Jesus on Christmas Eve, we visit Him with the shepherds and the Magi, we flee with Him to Egypt, and we find Him in the Temple after His separation from Our Lady and St. Joseph. Then we attend His Baptism, the commemoration which brings the festivities to a close and introduces Ordinary Time, in which we contemplate, over a series of months, the beginning of Our Lord’s public life, the miracles He performed, the indignation of the Pharisees in perceiving the diffusion of a new doctrine endowed with power (cf. Mk 1:27), which differed from their teachings, and the insecurity and envy which would goad them on to want to kill the Son of God.

Ordinary Time means the time of combat, of the struggle to fulfil duty, of abnegation and of the uprooting of our vanity—fundamental measures in the formation of character. It is no coincidence that on this Third Sunday we hear the Divine Master declare: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

What time is this? In what time are we living? The hands of the watch advance steadily, the seconds pass by, the minutes slip away. Our life is measured out by past events and future expectations… What message does this Liturgy bring us with regard to the creature called time, while it invites us to enter the Kingdom of God?

The preaching of Jonah

In the first reading (Jon 3:1-5,10) God commands the prophet Jonah, for the second time, to preach in Nineveh—a mission which, as we read in the preceding chapters, he grudgingly accepts. Convinced that its inhabitants would not convert, perhaps he thought that the admonishments would at least weigh in their condemnation, and accordingly set out bent on destruction, especially since the Ninevites numbered among the adversaries of the Jews. As it was a city embroiled in vices and erroneous religious concepts, the foretelling of impending doom must have been a pleasure for Jonah. Nineveh covered a large area—it took three days to cross—but the prophet spared no effort in proclaiming: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” (Jon 3:4).

But the king and the people took his word to heart: “when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jon 3:5). Why did they act in this way? Because the Lord showed them His way, and guided and taught them in His truth, as the Responsorial Psalm for today’s Liturgy (Ps 24:4a,5a) states. Having acquired a clear notion of the way to be followed, they corresponded to grace, which drew down benevolence from Heaven: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil that He had threatened to do to them; He did not carry it out” (Jon 3:10).

On this Sunday, the Church desires that, like the Ninevites, we also heed the voice of Jesus that exhorts us: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”

St. John the Baptist confronting Herod – Cathedral of St. Maurice, Mirepoix (France)

II – The Solemn Proclamation of the Kingdom: “Repent!”

14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: 15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The Divine Master came exercising His ministry unobtrusively, concomitant with the final months of the Precursor’s preaching. According to the narrative of St. John the Evangelist—which was considered during last Sunday’s Liturgy (cf. Jn 1:35-42)—it was at this time that Christ encountered those who would later make up the Twelve, when He would call them definitively, as St. Mark mentions in following verses.

The news of the imprisonment of St. John the Baptist served as the sign awaited by Jesus that now was the time determined by the Father to begin His public life, to open the floodgates of grace and to raise His tone of voice, predisposing souls for His apostolate. “Once John had been imprisoned”—St. Jerome comments—“He immediately began to preach. The Gospel was born with the waning of the Law.”2 From that time onward, He was concerned with nothing other than fulfilling the redemptive mission that had been entrusted to Him and pointing out the way of salvation. What is this way?

In virtue of the hypostatic union, Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true Man; there is in Him a mysterious junction of two natures, in the Person of the Word, which our intelligence is incapable of understanding without a divine gift: faith, on earth, and the beatific vision, in eternity. As Man, He would say of Himself: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Thus, the request of David, repeated in the Responsorial Psalm—“Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me Your paths, guide me in Your truth and teach me”—, are fully accomplished in Him. In formulating this desire, the prophet-king lacked a precise notion, as we have today, of what this Way was. Therefore, for us who know it, conversion is indispensable.

The call to conversion and the perspective of eternity

Conversion signifies a change of life, taking a different course from that which had been followed, as the Ninevites did when they heard Jonah’s preaching. To convert means to forsake a materialist, naturalist, and human outlook in order to assume an angelic, supernatural, and divine stance. It means forgoing banal problems in order to establish oneself within a new perspective—no longer that of time, but of eternity, of the Kingdom of God. Has anyone received a revelation regarding the hour of their death? Not even the very young know if they have many years ahead of them…

When we are baptized, we go from the state of mere human creature to child of God. When the waters of Baptism fell upon our head, all the sins we might have committed, if we were baptized as adults, were pardoned—including the worst possible crimes—and our souls were clothed in a white tunic. We should keep it in this state for our entire life; and, should a piece of this garment of innocence become snagged on barbed wire or stained by mud, an examination of conscience crowned by a request for forgiveness and sacramental absolution are all that is necessary for it to be restored. It is important to always maintain its whiteness, for at any moment—even today!—we could be called to render accounts and, without this prerogative, we will not be accepted into the Kingdom of God. The Liturgy underscores this, in the words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Thus, this Third Sunday of Ordinary Time brings to the fore that creature of God called time. And because time does not exist in God’s eyes, but rather everything is present, we, as children of God, are called to live with sights on eternity.

III – An Example of Change of Life

The Gospel also offers a beautiful example of conversion when Our Lord convokes four fishermen—Simon and Andrew, James and John—to a change of life, of work and of state.

The psychological makeup of a fisherman

16 As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.

It is intriguing that the choice fell upon fishermen. Jesus could have designated priests, members of the Sanhedrin or of the rabbinic schools—the universities of the time—or other persons of higher status and influence. But He wanted fishermen…

Let us trace out the characteristics of a fisherman. To be successful, he needs to be equipped with a kind of feeling, a “sixth sense” that is the mark of his profession. When he wakes in the morning, he knows, by the wind, the atmosphere, the tide and the look of the waves, if the sea is fair and will yield a good catch or if a storm is looming, and therefore if he will run a risk; he knows the places to cast the net, and those to avoid. He knows which seasons yields which type of fish, he knows when it is the spawning season, and when the fish are at their peak; he even distinguishes the habits of the various shoals. All of this knowledge becomes second nature to him.

For him, fishing is a livelihood and not a form of dilettantism. What is more, the fisherman has to establish a business which requires him to adapt the art of fishing to the relationship with clientele and, therefore, he must not only be wise in the art of fishing, but must also keep apace with the preferences of the consumers of the city. His life, then, is divided between the activity of fishing and human interests, which furnish him with keen psychological insight in addition to maritime prowess. If he is an excellent fisherman, but a poor businessman, or vice versa, his craft falls into ruin. Now, Christ chose His own from among fishermen. Why?

Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it

17 Jesus said to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

From that time on, the Apostles would fish for souls, not with the aim of acquiring profit, but rather to deliver them to God. He Who “does not destroy nature but perfects it,”3 would pour out His graces upon the disciples’ human qualities, so as to best take advantage of these, as Fillion points out: “The tasks that He entrusted to them, after a gradual preparation, were undoubtedly not dissimilar to the craft that they had carried out until then. […] In it, they had learned patience and resolute toil.”4 The supernatural would elevate and perfect the aptitudes and gifts of the fishermen, providing them with extraordinary potential in the fulfilment of their vocation. It would not have been desirable, then, for the Divine Master to seek others, if, at that time, fishermen were among those who possessed greater psychological sense, had more contact with nature, and a stupendous natural vision of the work of creation. Jesus’ choice rested with these because, in short, they were just the ones to begin the formation of the Apostolic College and the Church.

Jesus calls St. Peter and St. Paul – Cathedral of St. Julien, Le Mans (France)

In this episode, we recognize proof of God’s wisdom and His provident goodness: the cradle of the religion that would transform the face of the earth was in two diminutive boats, crossing a small lake with four fishermen. Indeed, “for by the net of holy preaching they drew fish, that is, men, from the depths of the sea, that is, of infidelity, to the light of faith. Wonderful indeed is this fishing! for fishes when they are caught, soon after die; when men are caught by the word of preaching, they rather are made to live,”5 affirms St. Remegius. Who would have the courage to say to the Greeks, the Romans or even the barbarians of the time, that these poor labourers would triumph over the civilizations considered great and upon their ruins would build an empire far superior, Christian Civilization, with all the stupendous riches and marvels that it would produce over the course of centuries? St. Augustine explains the highest reason for proceeding in this way: “If God had chosen a learned man, perhaps this choice would be attributed to his wisdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to break the necks of the proud, did not seek out fishermen by means of orators, but with fishermen, He gained the emperor.”6

Jesus’ mode of acting reveals a characteristic of vocations raised up by God: these have a generic trait—His glory, to which the totality of people are destined—and a specific trait. Each one is called to a particular mission, which no one else could accomplish so well. And he is allotted human qualities ordained toward the fulfilment of that objective for which he was especially designated by God.

All the same, the figure used—“fishers of men”—, is complex, for casting a net into the sea to fish is a very different thing from casting it in a public square to conquer souls. Being a fisher of men did not yield monetary profit, while catching fish did, especially in the Jewish society of that time, which was heavily dependent on fishing and sheepherding. Well versed in the language of analogies and parables used by Jesus, the four understood the deepest meaning of what was said to them.

Long preparation for a definitive encounter

18 Then they abandoned their nets and followed Him. 19 He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. 20 Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him.

St. Mark, being the Evangelist of brevity par excellence, does not relate the first contacts of Our Lord with Simon and Andrew, James and John, which preceded the scene narrated in these verses. It was an encounter of great emotion, an encounter with consequences of extraordinary scope and inestimable impact. While it seems like a chance meeting, it was actually prepared from all eternity by God’s omnipotent arm. Clearly, Jesus did not simply pass by and say “Follow Me!”, for there had been a psychological process by which those disciples had been prepared to give all, and He Himself had already set them within the school of St. John the Baptist. In fact, they were the same ones who had accompanied Jesus when He passed by the banks of the Jordan, where the Precursor was baptizing, contemplated in the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time. They believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but they had not unconditionally and definitively become His disciples, as Fr. Augustin Berthe notes: “After having followed this new Master for some time, the four fishermen had returned to their nets in the expectation of the great things that the Liberator might do to save Israel.”7

Imagine the conversations He must have had with the four—like the one on the day they first met—, showing them that, although the fishing profession was an interesting one, they ought not to settle for it; they ought to climb higher, for it was more important to attract souls to God, with a view to renewing the face of the earth. Once they had matured, Christ passed by and, with a simple phrase, moved them to abandon everything to serve Him and commit themselves to the apostolate, uniting themselves to Him forever. Similar to what occurs in the first reading, they were touched by an authentic grace of conversion.

We can picture the surprise of this reencounter, followed by great joy, and the solicitude of those simple and rough men, whose hearts were inflamed for the Divine Master. Undoubtedly, each of them, at this moment, was a source of true happiness for Him, for the social instinct of Jesus-Man—sublime, perfect, most noble, and totally assumed by the divinity—caused Him to be deeply touched when He met those who would be His Apostles, His sons. What “holy envy” we should have of them!

On that occasion, these chosen ones were not capable of weighing the importance of what had taken place, or of suspecting that they were changing history. Had they experienced this episode after received all the graces that would be later poured out upon them, which gave them a sublime understanding of the Person of Our Lord, their enthusiastic adherence and veneration for the Redeemer would have been all the greater!

Unconditional surrender

At that time, fishermen made up a social category which, far from being the lower echelon of the people, was equivalent to today’s middle class. Zebedee, father of James and John, owned a business—in partnership with Simon and Andrew (cf. Lk 5:10)—and had already amassed a degree of wealth, as can be gathered from the fact that he employed them to help him. Consequently, it was difficult for them to renounce this position, to leave their father and their nets, in order to follow Jesus. They were not undertaking a career with guaranteed success, but making a leap in the dark, embracing the unknown, because they would now begin to live from alms and wander from place to place. No one knew what future awaited them, especially since Our Lord would say of Himself: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt 8:20).

Docility and detachment proceed from charity. The Apostles made an act of love of the Master, based on which they no longer belonged to themselves, but to Him: they were His slaves, having no other destiny than Him! Where will they go? It does not matter! They do not even ask or think of this! It was a perfect attitude, for Our Lord came preaching: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!” A learned man, a Doctor of the Law, a Pharisee or scribe would think: “Ah, what naive trust!” Nevertheless, we must say: What impressive abnegation! How wisely these four acted! What happiness to have said yes to grace, to the vocation, with this impetus!

In this Gospel, as in the first reading of the prophecy of Jonah, we see that “the word of God is living and active” (Heb 4:12). It transforms, converts, and sanctifies! Furthermore, the Word is salvific, for it penetrates and produces marvels, as long as we duly correspond to it and are flexible. However, if we set up obstacles, we will not bear fruit—unless God mercifully “throws us from the horse” as He did with St. Paul (cf. Acts 9:4)—, for He desires our collaboration.

What are our “nets”?

For the disciples, conversion meant leaving the nets. What are our “nets”? How do we respond to His appeal when the Son of God calls us, when He touches the depth of our soul with grace? In all of life’s circumstances, He invites us ad maiora. How do we react?

Our social circles, specific friendships and daily duties sometimes hold us back from our true goal, awakening in us a naturalist and worldly dream, removed from eternity. Caprice, obsession, erroneous outlooks, egoism, and evil inclinations must be combated and rejected immediately, for “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The example that the Gospel gives impels us to ascend to a new level. Of what does it consist? From the moment in which we were elevated to the plane of grace through Baptism, we must no longer obey the dictates of the world, nor be driven by personal interest, vanity, and pride. We must live from the Sacraments, from prayer, from everything that helps us to fulfil our individual vocation and to abandon the “net” that binds us to earthly things, for our life has ceded to a new life! We are “angelized”!

IV – The Pauline Message: “Time is Running out”

In the second reading (1 Cor 7:29-31) St. Paul says: “time is running out” (1 Cor 7:29). Children have the impression that time passes slowly; a month is interminable. Nevertheless, as we get older, a year passes in the blink of an eye… the days fly, and for those of advanced age, they become shorter and shorter, passing by in an accelerated countdown. In fact, when we leave this world, time is nothing! And even if a pill were discovered that could prolong human life to 120 or 240 years, what would that be compared to eternity?

St. Paul the Apostle – Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

The Apostle continues in the same vein: let us live, “those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away”(1 Cor 7:30-31). He intends, through these verses to show that, within reason, it is good to shed tears, to be joyful, to acquire goods, and to use the things of the world that are licit in themselves—but not to pin our hope on these things or let ourselves be fascinated by them to the point of forgetting God. At the hour of death, the body will rest in the tomb and the soul will come before Him to be judged. What will time be worth then? We know that the present world is passing. What profit will the sinner have? This is essentially the Pauline message: “Every legitimate thing can be done, but without giving the heart over to it. On the contrary, do these things as if they meant nothing at all and have your eyes fixed on eternity.”

Leaving everything to embrace sanctity

It is necessary to mediate on the Final Judgement, the day on which all our thoughts will be revealed. If we correspond to the invitation of this Sunday’s Liturgy, resolving to unite ourselves more intimately to the Saviour and to be examples of goodness, truth, and virtue to our neighbour, this good disposition will weigh in our individual sentence.

Certain of the Lord’s goodness, let us ask Him for the strength to overcome obstacles, for the way to Heaven is not easy. Let us be convinced we should strive at each step to be more perfect and to adapt our souls to His, based on the unerring principle that we either progress or we become tepid. In the spiritual life, we are never stagnant: those who do not advance, regress!

Accordingly, let us ask St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. James, and St. John to obtain for us from Our Lord Jesus Christ the same grace that they received: to leave everything to embrace the way of sanctity, whether in family life or within a religious vocation, with courage and full of confidence!



1 PIUS XII. Mediator Dei, n.165.
2 ST. JEROME. Comentario a Mateo. L.I (1,1-10,42), c.4, n.3. In: Obras Completas. Comentario a Mateo y otros escritos. Madrid: BAC, 2002, v.II, p.43.
3 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiae. q.1, a.8, ad 2.
4 FILLION, Louis-Claude. Vida de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Vida pública. Madrid: Rialp, 2000, v.II, p.22-23.
5 ST. REMIGIUS, apud ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Catena Aurea. In Marcum, c.I, v.16-20.
6 ST. AUGUSTINE. In Ioannis Evangelium. Tractatus VII, n.17. In: Obras. Madrid: BAC, 1955, v.XIII, p.239.
7 BERTHE, CSsR, Augustin. Jesus Cristo, sua vida, sua Paixão, seu triunfo. Einsiedeln: Benziger, 1925, p.114.
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