The Third Sunday After Epiphany, 2021.
Jeremiah 3:19—4:4; Psalm 130; 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Mark 1:14-20
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For the last, roughly, two weeks, I have felt as though I were living in the midst of Psalm 130, which we read just a few minutes ago. Over the space of the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of reason to reflect on the fact that a person—human or not—or event can enter into our lives and totally turn them over, totally revolutionize them in a way we did not expect, do not always find comfortable, but must make adjustments to, nonetheless. My own adventure which started with a rusty nail entering the sole of my left foot, not once but three times, which we were only able to tell after the swelling went down, caused an infection which, for me as a diabetic, could have ended in amputation. God be praised, that didn’t happen.
Almost simultaneously, as it turned out, our beloved dog, Kubashii, an Akita, apparently inhaled something as tiny as a grass seed, which worked its way through a lung and out again, and which put him in a life-threatening situation from which he is, with all of your prayer support, currently recovering, though slowly. I beg for your continued prayers. Then there was the election. Long term results to be determined, but bringing change on many fronts none the less.And then there’s today’s Gospel, involving to very settled and, presumably, happy fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They also happen to be brothers, Simon and Andrew, sons of another fisherman named Jonah or John in some translations. Simon and Andrew were busy casting a net into the sea.
Day after day it was the same thing; the same sea, the same net, the same boat. What we might be tempted to describe as “the same old-same old.” Day after day it was wind, water, fish, sore muscles, tired bodies. They probably grew up watching their dad and granddad fishing, watching their future life, watching how they too would spend their time. Cast the net, pull it in. Cast the net, pull it in.
If you are not casting the net, then you sit in the boat mending the net. That’s what James and John, Simon and Andrew’s neighbors and partners, were doing. Casting and mending. Casting and mending. You know about those days, right? We may not fish for a living, but we know about casting and mending nets. Days that all seem the same. One looks like another. Life is routine, lived on autopilot. Nothing changes. We don’t expect much to happen.
This is our life. We cast the nets. We mend the nets. Casting and mending to make a living, to feed our family, to pay the bills. Casting and mending to gain security and get to retirement. Casting and mending to hold our family together, to make our marriage work, to raise our children. Casting and mending to gain the things we want: a house, a car, books, clothes, a vacation. Casting and mending to earn a reputation, gain approval, establish status. Casting and mending our way through another day of loneliness, sadness, or illness.
Casting and mending are realities of life. They are also the circumstances in which Jesus comes to us, the context in which we hear the call to new life, and the place where we are changed and the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. These would-be disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John, are not looking for Jesus. They are too busy with the nets. It’s just another day of casting and mending. They may not have even noticed Jesus, but he not only sees them he speaks to them.
Jesus has a way of showing up in the ordinary places of life and interrupting the daily routines of casting and mending nets. That’s what he did to the lives of Simon and Andrew, James and John. That’s what he does to your life and my life. “Follow me” is Jesus’ invitation to a new life. If these four fishermen accept the invitation, their lives will forever be different. They will be different. They will no longer catch just fish. They will fish for people.
When Jesus says, “I will make you fish for people,” he’s describing the transformation of their lives, not simply a job catching new members or followers. He could just as easily have said to the carpenters, “Follow me, and you will build the kingdom of heaven.” To the farmers, “Follow me, and you will grow God’s people.” To the doctors, “Follow me, and you will heal the brokenness of the world.” To the teachers, “Follow me, and you will open minds and hearts to the presence of God.” To the parents, “Follow me, and you will nurture new life.” Whatever your life is, in whatever way you spend your time, there is in that life Jesus’ call to “Follow me.”
“Follow me” is the call to participate with God in God’s own saving work. It’s the work of change and growth. That work is always about moving to a larger vision, orienting our life in a new direction, and experiencing that our little story of life is connected to and a part of a much larger story of life, God’s life.
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus called them. Mark records no discussions, no questions, no goodbyes. They simply “left… and followed him.” I’m afraid that if Mark were writing about me—when he gets to the part when Jesus says, “Follow me”—Mark would write, “and immediately the questions followed.” “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do I need to take? Where will we stay?” But this conversation doesn’t take place in today’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t offer a map, an itinerary, or a destination. Only an invitation.
This is not the type of journey you can prepare for. This is the inner journey, a journey into the deepest part of our beings, the place where God lives. It’s not about planning and organizing, making lists, or packing supplies. It’s not that easy. If anything, this journey is about leaving things behind. Listen to what Mark says: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” “They left their father Zebedee in the boat…, and followed him.”
The invitation, “follow me,” is also the invitation to leave behind; to leave behind our nets, our boats, and even our fathers. That’s the hard part for most of us. We’re pretty good at accumulating and clinging but not so good at letting go. More often than not our spiritual growth involves some kind of letting go. We never get anywhere new, as long as we’re unwilling to leave where we are. We accept Jesus’ invitation to follow, not by packing up, but by letting go.
“Follow me” is both the invitation to a new life and the promise of new life. So, what are the nets that entangle us? What are the little boats that contain our life? Who are the fathers from whom we seek identity, value, or approval? What do we need to let go of and leave behind so that we might follow him?
Please, don’t think this is simply about changing careers, disowning our family, or moving to a new town. It is about the freedom to be fully human and in so being to discover God’s living and calling within us. We let go so that our life may be reoriented, so that we can now travel in new direction, so that we may be open to receive the life of God anew.
When we let go, everything is transformed, including our nets, boats, and fathers. That’s why Jesus could tell them they would still be fishermen. But now they would fish for people. They wouldn’t become something that they weren’t already, but they would still be changed, forever changed. They would become transformed fishermen. They would more authentically be who they already were. In the end it’s about letting go of our own little life so that we can receive God’s life.
This letting go happens in the context of our everyday activities: work, school, families, paying the bills, running errands, fixing dinner, relationships, and trying to do the right thing. It happens in the casting and mending of our nets. These are the times and places Jesus shows up and calls us to follow him into a new way of being and our world changes. It happened for Simon, Andrew, James, and John. It can happen for you and me.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.