Linda L. Baratte, Ph.D.
The mourning for Hollywood star Chadwick Boseman — who died in late August of colon cancer at the age of 43 — continues apace. This remarkable African American man, acclaimed for his groundbreaking roles as Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and the Marvel superhero Black Panther, joins the sad ranks of those who have died too young. But it is a YouTube clip of his commencement address to his alma mater Howard University in 2018 that is drawing the most sustained attention. Already in an unknown-to-his-audience struggle with disease, he encourages the newly-minted graduates to embrace the inevitable challenges ahead as preparation for the call to find their deepest, truest purpose. “If you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one with more failures at first than successes, the one that ultimately will yield more meaning, more victories, more glory — you will not regret it.”
Our Gospel story today finds Jesus extending that same challenge in his pithy ‘Follow me’ invitation. In Luke’s retelling, the call of the disciples comes first to Simon and brothers James and John, all partners in what was most likely a very profitable fishing business at the bustling crossroads town of Capernaum. They hear the call to that new purpose — to live, learn, and love at the feet of their Master Teacher — and, leaving everything behind (not just their father, as in the call-narratives in Mark and Matthew), they do follow indeed.
I must confess that the harder way of the “leaving everything behind” has always given me a hard pause for reflection and discernment. Can this scriptural passage possibly be an accurate reporting of the historical facts on the ground? We know that Peter had a mother-in-law; Jesus has just cured her in the preceding chapter in Luke. Were all of the other eleven disciples eligible bachelors?!! Detachment from the things of this world in order to say yes to a greater way of loving… this I understand. But it is hard to imagine Jesus’ ministry beginning with the cruelty of abandonment of roles of husband, father, son, provider, friend. It’s complicated.
Rev. James Martin writes of the two ways to find Jesus — probing the Jesus of history and embracing the Christ of faith. My musings about the personal and practical implications of the call to discipleship reside in the unanswered realm of the Jesus of history. It is in the Christ of faith that we, like the disciples, find the meaning, victory, and glory where our purpose-filled life can live and move and have its being. For most of us, our call comes not in a dramatic “two roads diverged in a yellow woods” moment at a seashore in Galilee, but rather in the daily, gentle beckoning of the Spirit. How will our vocational call as spouses, parents, friends, teachers, servants, students, and mentors find expression this day?
Linda is a presenter for Days of Reflection at Loyola Jesuit Center; in addition, she chairs the Mission Committee on the Loyola Board of Directors.