As I begin this morning, I invite you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in that scripture reading. Imagine the sights, the sounds, the smells… birds crying… the call of fishermen from one ship to another… the sun beating down on your head… the smell of the water meeting land… the feel of the nets in your hands… And when you are ready to open your eyes, you will meet another fisherman that was there that day….
I was there that day… you know the day… the day that Jesus called Andrew and Simon, James and John. I was there too… I was fishing just like they were…I had been listening just like them… But Jesus didn’t call me…I felt left out.
I had heard Jesus speak before… it wasn’t the first time he had been down by the water proclaiming his message of repentance. I was always disturbed a little when Jesus spoke… what he said called to my heart… but I was afraid… After all, John the Baptist had just been arrested for saying the same things… it seemed a bit risky to associate with Jesus. And yet, I was also drawn to his message of hope in the midst of our oppression. I wanted to be a part of that… even despite my fear.
And so I watched Andrew and Simon, drop their nets and go with Jesus. And then a few minutes later, James and John, left their FATHER, left their livelihood, to go with Jesus. Now, your scripture says they IMMEDIATELY left and followed him. And that is certainly what it might have looked like. But Jesus had been down to the Sea of Galilee more than once before… people always gathered around him and listened to his message.
I was part of those gatherings… his message stirred me up… there was a burning in my heart… But that day he called the others… I was both disappointed and relieved that he didn’t call me. I didn’t understand that phrase he used, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Fish for people? For what purpose? And how could the kingdom of God be at hand?
We lived and worked under Roman rule… cruel Roman rule… Roman oppression. Our lives were governed by the whims of the state, over which we had no control or saying… and we were taxed beyond measure. Even some of our own people were in league with the Romans, collecting the taxes on their behalf… and sometimes collecting more than the Romans told them to. What choice did we have? If we didn’t pay it, we ran the risk of being stripped of our livelihoods and perhaps imprisoned. There was no justice in the Roman courts. All they were concerned with was getting our gold and keeping us under their thumb.
And then Jesus came… With his message of repentance and new life. I think he learned some of that from his mother… do you remember that song she sang when she discovered that she was pregnant?
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Powerful, dangerous words! And she learned them from the prophets… Isaiah and Jeremiah… Micah and Amos. And she learned justice from Deborah and strength from Esther. And she taught Jesus. The teachers in the synagogue taught Jesus. Jesus spoke of a kingdom where there was enough for all, where there was freedom and no fear.
That story of Andrew and Simon and James and John leaving their nets behind and following Jesus immediately is amazing and powerful and true! But it’s not the end of the story… Jesus came back to the Sea of Galilee many times, continuing to retell the prophet’s stories and to remind us that God wants freedom and justice for all people… not just the powerful.
And you know what… Jesus called me one day to follow him… and this time I was ready… My fear hadn’t left me completely, but the chance to spend time in his company was too strong to resist. This time, my hands let go of my nets and I went with him. And so, I was part of the ever larger group that travelled with him. And I listened… and I learned… and I challenged… and I prayed… And yes, I learned that the kingdom of God was at hand! Because we had the power to create it! Just as the systems of injustice and oppression were created, systems of equality and fairness could be created. Indeed, I had been walking in darkness but I have seen a great light… and having seen the light, I was no longer content to live in the darkness.
I stayed with Jesus for a year… I learned everything I could from him… And then it seemed as if my heart was burning to go home… back to my father and my nets… I wasn’t leaving in fear… I was leaving to continue Jesus message… the one he learned from his mother and his scriptures… I finally understood what meant when he said, “I will teach you to fish for people.” Not to catch them in the nets of tyranny and bind them with oppression. But to remind them of the freedom that God wants for all people. The freedom that is possible when we leave the nets of fear behind.
And so I went back to fishing… back to everyday life… But I went back with a difference… I was fishing for both fish and people. Fishing fed my family and me….
Telling Jesus’ story fed my soul. My friends… what are the nets that we cling to that prevent us from following Jesus? What is it that prevents us from proclaiming the good news?
If I, an ordinary fisherman can do it… so can you…
February 12, 2023 – SJUC
© Catherine MacDonald 2023