In all our popular sports we find “fair play” and “foul play” with referees and umpires necessary to decide. But in good literature we often find something called “word play.” Our natural reaction as readers of such is enjoyment and remembrance. Word play always involves making jokes by using the meanings of words in an amusing and clever way. That’s precisely why the word “play” is part of its title. However, word play can also create more serious observations if it is used deliberately.

Recall G.K. Chesterton’s statement that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Nestled in today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark’s first chapter is exactly the case of word play made with serious undertone is Jesus’ remark to His early followers: “Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men.” I happen to love that line. I love proclaiming it to you. Why? Because it captures something special. It is a trait of Our Lord that the gospel writers usually don’t refer to, and that is Jesus’ sense of humor. That helps round out His personality and makes Him attractive. For so He is and always will be.

But here and now, let us focus on those first three words He says, namely “Come after Me.” There is no word play here, but a serious call addressed not only to the men on that long ago seaside but also to us. In plain terms, with little “play” present, just what prevents us from doing what Jesus asks? Or pretending we didn’t hear what He said? Coming after Him ultimately means not going after other realities. And we get a little nervous. Why?

If we are honest with ourselves, we usually go after other things. We might say one or the other of the “Big Three,” namely: “Wealth, Honor and Fame.” Sometimes it’s a combination of those. Or a subdivision like greed. Anything but going after Jesus. So here and now, as we begin this third week of a new year, it would be a good “play” to go with Jesus for a welcome change.

Meantime, there are always examples of how word play can take us by surprise. Helena Modjeska (1844-1909) was one of the most popular actresses of her time because of her emotional style and superb ability. Once, to demonstrate the raw power of that ability, she gave a dramatic reading in her native tongue, Polish. No one at the sedate dinner party understood Polish, but all were in tears by the end of her performance. Such was the power of her presentation. Only later was it revealed that the piece that had moved the sophisticated audience to tears was the Polish alphabet!

God love you and give you His peace.