1/26/2020 Third Sunday after Epiphany The text is Matthew 4: 12-23.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Immediately! In both Mark and Matthew’s gospels immediately is used between 35 and 40 times. In most instances it is used to describe Jesus’ actions. But this morning Matthew tells us that two sets of fishermen brothers responded to Jesus’ call to follow him, ‘immediately’.
Now, I don’t do many things immediately; that is, unless it’s in response to my wife telling me that something needs to be done. In that case I’ve been known to move pretty quickly. In the reading this morning, Jesus has made a hasty withdrawal to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And he has begun to declare the coming of God’s kingdom and is apparently beginning to assemble his team of first followers. And it doesn’t appear that the interview process for the job of Disciple is a very complex one. Jesus says to the first pair of brothers, Simon and Andrew, something like this; ‘it looks like you two know how to catch fish; come with me and I will teach you how to scoop people into your nets and convert them to a righteous, redeemed life with God the Father.
These two fishermen leave their nets and ‘immediately’ follow this Jesus, this itinerant preacher from Bethlehem, a hick town about 130 miles away from the rather larger and more commercial environs of Capernaum. Now this was a village on the bank of the Galilee, and the livelihoods for the majority of its citizens was the net-fishing industry; as well as farming and grazing livestock. So, it’s not unexpected that Jesus, now with Andrew and Simon tagging along comes across another pair of sibling fishermen, James and John. These two are sitting with their father, Zebedee in their fishing boat. And Matthew tells us that these two also leave their nets, and their father behind in the boat to follow Jesus ‘immediately’.
So, these four; Simon, Andrew, James, and John, the first disciples, ‘immediately’ leave their boats, their nets, their very livelihood right there on the shore, and they just up and follow Jesus. They abandon their normal lives, and I daresay not fully knowing what they are getting themselves into, they trot off, following this wandering preacher.
Simon and the others were simple, most likely uneducated men who worked hard and likely didn’t expect very much in return for their labor. A good thing too, because in Roman-occupied Palestine, just about everyone took a cut from what fishermen, farmers, and shepherds earned. Government administrators, tax collectors, brokers; all were entitled to a portion of what the people caught in their nets, harvested from the soil, or grazed in the fields.
So, even though these four and their fishing partners likely owned their own boats and were better off than most, their lives were most likely not much more than basic subsistence. Yet they were willing to abandon their livelihoods; their nets, their boats, and their families to join with this Jesus, to follow this prophet who was giving them the opportunity to do something different, something much more important with their lives. Jesus assumed that Simon and Andrew, James and John were pretty good at catching fish; he also knew they would be successful as ‘fishers of people”; in the Greek, ‘Halieus anthropon’. ‘Fishers of Humanity’.
Whether they were well-suited for the job or not apparently wasn’t of major concern to Jesus when he called them. Reminds me of the old adage; ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called’. Jesus would teach them how to live into the vocation to which he was calling them. Although, it’s pretty certain that these four simple fishermen didn’t have a clue about what they were getting themselves into. Yet, they responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him ‘immediately’.
The first disciple Simon, the one soon to be given the name ‘Peter’ by Jesus will come to be the ‘rock’ that Christ’s church is to be built upon. I wonder if he had the vaguest thought of this when he ‘immediately’ left his old life behind, to follow this prophet who, at the time it might be said was ‘hiding out’ in Capernaum, in fear after Herod arrested John the Baptist?
A couple of things I discovered while researching the art of net fishing in the ancient Middle East; in Simon and Andrew’s time, fishermen used ‘trammel nets.’ These were weighted and were cast from the boats to fall to the bottom in shallow water, trapping fish within their perimeter. Once they were thought to be full the men jumped out of the boats, into the shallow water and hauled the nets back on board.
And in the fishing story we read later in Luke that is why Simon was incredulous when Jesus told him to take his boat into deeper water; it would be that much more difficult to haul the nets back into the boat.
Also, these weren’t the transparent nylon nets common today. They were made of woven grasses or flax and fish could easily see and avoid them in daylight; that’s why the fishing was done at night, in the dark.
This got me to thinking about the parallel between catching fish and fishing for people. It wouldn’t always be done in the ‘shallow waters’ of life’s circumstances; oftentimes, God needs to descend into the deep, dark recesses of our spirits to bring us to the surface and into the boat of faith. And, often we are able to see the net before us and we resist and avoid being pulled into the vessel that’s meant to rescue us.
Nonetheless, Simon Peter leaves his fishing boat, his nets, and his family to help Jesus fish for people. This action would suggest that Simon the Rock of the church would be the one to have the strongest faith in Christ, and that he would never waiver, never fail to grasp what Jesus’ mission was all about. But it seems that Peter was able to lose his faith and his epiphany of Jesus’ nature almost immediately when things go a bit astray for him. Later on the gospels we will read that Peter’s faith is weak and he begins to sink when Jesus tells him to walk to him on the water. He denies knowing Jesus three times. He refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus has to tell him, ‘get behind me, and calls Peter; Satan’. Time and time again Jesus has to sit Simon Peter down and explain Jesus’ mission; and even though, at times Peter seems to be as thick as a brick, Jesus reminds him of why he was chosen for the new vocation that he accepted ‘immediately’.
We are, after all, the ‘anthropon’, the people that Jesus charges Simon to fish for; to seek out and haul into the boat of Christian belief and faith. We are the humanity that Jesus tells Simon and the others they will be fishing for, to lure into the net of the Gospel. To live lives abounding in God’s never-ending grace. To recognize that we too have been called to follow Jesus, whether we respond immediately, or it takes a great deal of time for us to ‘get in the boat’.
And the overwhelming attribute of God’s grace; God’s willingness to love, accept, and forgive us is that the Father allows us all the time in the world to get up and follow. God is persistent; we are stubborn. We resist God’s efforts to convince us to see things as God sees them. To see the world as God sees it. To see God’s people the way God sees them. To see ourselves as God sees us. And if we don’t immediately abandon our old ways of thinking and living and willingly swim into the entanglement of God’s love, God will continue to cast the net out for us until we are finally hauled in.
Yet we may resist, for ‘immediately’ may not be in our nature, especially when it comes to acknowledging that we are unable to make our way in the sea of life without God’s unmerited grace. We are after all, only human. We will doubt, our faith will weaken, we will fail to come to the aid of our neighbor. We will pass up the opportunity to feed, clothe, and shelter those in need. Often without even realizing we even had the opportunity to offer help to those in distress. We will act, and fail to act, in very much the way Simon Peter did. But there’s an upside to the fact that God sees us differently from the way we see ourselves and those around us. God recognizes our humanity in the same way that Jesus recognized the ‘anthropon’ in Simon and the others. And in spite of our human frailty, or perhaps even because of it, no matter how many times we stumble, how often our faith wavers, how many times we neglect the needs of others, how many times we fail to heed God’s call to act as we should, we are always given, by God’s grace, the opportunity to be caught in the net of faith’.
We have been fished for and we have been caught in the net of the love of God, the redemption of Jesus, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. In thanksgiving for the blessings bestowed upon us, let us strive to show compassion for those we encounter. We know what needs to be done to come to the aid of those who are suffering in any way; be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The needs of the world are great, and in many cases, immediate. Let us respond as the first four fishermen did; if not ‘immediately’, then as soon as possible. There is much to be done!
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, your Son Jesus made his disciples fishers of people. Through your grace we are among those who have been caught and are now in the net of your righteousness. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us in the ways in which you would have us be fishers of people also. There is plenty of room in the net of your love, and in the boat of Christ’s salvation.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.