3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God.
In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the vocation of not only Peter but also Andrew as well as of James and John occurs while the soon-to-be apostles are fishing and after John the Baptist has been arrested. However, St. John very clearly states that both Andrew and Peter (and perhaps John as well) were called by Jesus while they were with St. John the Baptist – at least, Andrew was with the Baptizer, and then he went and brought Peter to Jesus.
Now, at first glance, it would seem that these two accounts are incompatible; however, we will quickly notice that there were two occasions in which Christ called these men. The first calling of Andrew and (probably) John and Peter as presented in St. John’s Gospel occurred a full year before the second calling of the apostles which is given.
Were Peter and Andrew called by Jesus before or after the arrest of St. John the Baptist?
The historical truth of the Gospels
Consider the following words on the historicity of the Gospels, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, ‘whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up.’” (CCC 126, Dei Verbum [Vatican II] 19)
The historical reliability of the Gospels is “unhesitatingly” affirmed by the Church, because they record what our Savior “really did and taught” during his life on earth. Note, especially, the choice of the word “unhesitatingly” – there is no qualification, delay or condition placed upon the Church’s affirmation of the historical verity of the Gospels.
As is the case with all of Sacred Scripture, the Gospels must convey that truth which the writers (whether the human beings or God himself) intended to convey – and that truth which the Gospels teach is the historical life of Christ. Hence, there can be no doubt that the Gospels accurately record Jesus’ historical life.
Finally, consider the following quote from Pope Pius XII:
“For as the substantial Word of God became like to men in all things, except sin, so the words of God, expressed in human language, are made like to human speech in every respect, except error.” (Divino Afflante Spiritu)
Thus, if St. John tells us that Jesus called Andrew from the side of St. John the Baptist, then this must have indeed occurred. And, further, if the Beloved writes that Andrew led Peter to Jesus, so it was.
However, on the other hand, if the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say that Peter and Andrew (as well as James and John) were called while they were fishing and after the arrest of St. John the Baptist, so it was.
Hence, we must reconcile these two (seemingly contradictory) accounts.
How many times did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
A further point which may give rise to confusion is the fact that St. John records the cleansing of the Temple to have occurred at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, even before St. John the Baptist has been arrested (cf. John 2:13ff.).
However, the synoptic gospels place the cleansing of the Temple in the final week of Jesus life on earth. It seems that this was the last straw which led the Sadducees to unite against our Savior and to conspire to put him to death.
How can we reconcile John with the other three Evangelists? The clear answer is that there must have been two cleansings of the Temple: The Lord Jesus cleansed the Temple once during his first year of public ministry, and he cleansed it a second time in the final days before his death.
As Alcuin says (in the Catena Aurea): “The Gospels mention two journeys of our Lord to Jerusalem, one in the first year of His preaching, before John was sent to prison, which is the journey now spoken of [by St. John]; the other in the year of His Passion.”
It was in his first journey in the first year of his ministry that Jesus cleansed the Temple the first time (as recorded by St. John). In the last week of his ministry he again cleansed the Temple (as recorded by Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
What Jesus did before and after John was arrested
There are times when the gospels are not entirely clear as to the historical order of events – when this occurs, we are not necessarily bound to assume that they are related in chronological order. However, at other times, the gospel writers specify chronology, and then we must affirm that the historical chronology given is true. When there is an apparent contradiction, we must try to understand how the gospels are all in harmony.
In Mark (as well as Matthew and Luke), it is very clear that John the Baptist had already been arrested when Peter and Andrew as well as James and John were called by Jesus: after John had been arrested (Mark 1:14). However, in John, it is equally clear that the Baptist had not yet been arrested when Andrew and Peter were called, since it is John the Baptist who says to Andrew, Behold, the Lamb of God.
The only logical conclusion must be that there were two vocations, two callings of these apostles. Jesus had called Andrew and Peter first when they were still disciples of John the Baptist and then, some time later, called them a second time while they were fishing (after the Baptist had been arrested).
This, however, means that some amount of time passed from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and fasting in the desert (cf. Mark 1:13) and the arrest of John and calling of the disciples (cf. Mark 1:14). So, just how much time did pass between Mark 1:13 and 14?
The time after Jesus’ baptism and before John’s arrest
A full year passes between the fast in the desert and the arrest of the Baptist. This time period is recalled only by St. John, comprising the first three chapters of St. John’s Gospel. Consider the commentary of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide on Matthew 4:12:
“Matthew, Mark, and Luke all omit the embassy of the Jews to John the Baptist, asking him if he were the Messiah. To this first year of Christ’s ministry pertain also the turning water into wine, the driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and the discourse with Nicodemus. These all took place before the imprisonment of the Baptist, and are related only by S. John. For before his imprisonment Christ had committed to John the work of preaching, but now He took that office upon Himself.”
And, speaking of the passage of a year between Mark 1:13 and 14, St. Bede the Venerable (cited in the Catena Aurea) writes:
“Let no one, however, suppose that the putting of John in prison took place immediately after the forty days' temptation and the fast of the Lord; for whoever reads the Gospel of John will find, that the Lord taught many things before the putting of John in prison, and also did many miracles; for you have in his Gospel, This beginning of miracles did Jesus; and afterwards, for John was not yet cast into prison. Now it is said, that when John read the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he approved indeed the text of the history, and affirmed that they had spoken truth, but said that they had composed the history of only one year after John was cast into prison, in which year also he suffered. Passing over then the year of which the transactions had been published by the three others, he related the events of the former period, before John was cast into prison.”
And thus, it is clear that there need be no contradiction between the calling of Peter and Andrew as related in the synoptic gospels and that of St. John – for there were two callings, which took place roughly one year apart. And it was fitting that our Savior should call these apostles twice, for they were disciples of the Baptist and did not begin to follow Christ publicly until after the Precursor had been arrested and so run his course.