s115g^97 Somerton Park + 26/1/97 Epiphany 3
Jesus "saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets". Mark 1:19
This little incident of the calling of the fishermen provides us with many lessons for the Church. It gives us an insight into what Jesus meant by "repent ... and believe". It talks about how we follow Jesus. And finally it gives us an insight into the relationship with what we should be doing and how we should not be trying to do God's work.
In the Church we have theologised the word "repent" and "believe" to such an extent that they have become almost completely associated with repenting from sin and belief in Jesus as someone quite alien. We have made them into prerequisites for entry into the Christian Community. So the Catechism tells us, in answer to the question: "What is required of persons to be baptised?" the answer: "Repentance, by which they reject sin; and faith, by which they believe the promises made by God in that sacrament." (APBA p818)
As Jesus went on his journeying by the sea of Galilee, he sees these fishermen. Because we believe Jesus is so alien to us, we assume that he has supernatural powers which means he knew these particular people had no especial need to repent. He obviously knew that each were morally and religiously upright with no sexual hangups. This means that Simon and Andrew, James and John were almost as alien as Jesus himself.
Jesus calls them. He doesn't quiz them about their past misdemeanours or the present marital status, sexual orientation or lack thereof. He doesn't explain who he was and the importance of believing his supernatural status. He doesn't demand of them either repentance or faith. He calls them to follow him, and I note that there is no time frame given. He doesn't require them to "serve him to the end". Much later he asks some of them will they also leave him. And of course at his arrest the disciples are scattered - they were not to follow with him on that final path.
This reading is some evidence therefore that repentance for Jesus means simply the invitation to "come". It has no reference to acknowledgement of sin, confession and forgiveness, sexuality or faith.
Jesus calls them to follow, and by calling them he implicitly says to each that they have a unique part to play in the mission that Jesus had. So, I am sorry if I am somewhat repetitive, Jesus went around looking for people to make their contribution to him without any reference to these other things which have become such a central element of our Christian confession. I have no doubt about the centrality of turning from sins and trusting God, but I suspect that for each and every one of us, these things come a little way down the track after responding to God's call. Firstly God says to you and to me and to all - come - make the contribution only you can make to my kingdom. This is what following is about - responding to the call to give to God.
In fact, the evidence is scant indeed, that even when others did follow Jesus, that he ever raised issues such as past misdemeanours, lifestyle, sexuality or belief. It is Peter who recognises his own sinfulness, overwhelmed by the catch of fish he had just made. It is Peter who is lead to say to Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". Neither were asked of him.
Now some of you, who have come to know me reasonably well, will begin to realise why I have some difficulties with making parents who bring children for baptism, stand up and make those great professions of faith - "I turn to Christ", "I repent of my sins" and "I renounce evil" as if these people have suddenly seen the light, have turned from their evil past, realised that Jesus is the only way, and are now going to live up to the expectations that the Church and we can heap upon them, for the rest of their lives. Hardly. These affirmations are simply the churches' language for the statement that parents come, wanting God's blessing in the life of their child. They are quite prepared, if there are things in the past blocking that blessing, to put those behind them. Similarly they hope to live in the future in a manner which will help rather than hinder that continued blessing. It is up to the Church to rejoice that God has brought them to that stage - which is a significant stage indeed - and to welcome them - not to question their sincerity or faith.
Why did Jesus choose these particular people? I cannot tell you why Simon and Andrew were called, at least initially, but the words give us some hint about why Jesus chose James and John. We are told they were mending their nets. This indicates that they were people who were sensible and did the groundwork - the preparation. I know little about fishing of any variety, let alone fishing with nets. But I do know that if nets become chocked with weeds and other objects, it would make them doubly difficult to handle. If the nets have holes then the fish can escape. So they were sitting down doing the preparation work for their next session of casting. They were getting prepared.
Similarly, I have no way of knowing the times when fishing might be best on the Sea of Galilee in those days, but if James and John were taking the time to prepare their nets, perhaps Simon and Andrew were checking that their nets didn't have tangles. They obviously weren't all that far from shore, for Jesus was able to call them. Perhaps Jesus could see that their preparation had been done. Wise fishermen do their preparation. Jesus could see that certainly James and John were wise, so probably Simon and Andrew were the same. This is of course speculation, but the words are given about "mending their nets" for some reason.
I have also indicated that it gives us an insight into how God acts and what we are meant to do. My fishing expertise can only be described as nil. The few fish I have ever caught in my life must be the unluckiest creatures around. I have heard of stories of very expensive fishing gear which attracts the fish. But in reality while the experts know the time and locations to fish, it is God who arranges the fish to be there or not. All the fisherman can do is make sure he has the nets mended and be there when the fish are. God arranges the fish. So with the Church. We are called to have our nets mended, free of tangles and the flotsam and jetsam which bedevil any organisation, so that we too can accept the contributions others God calls to make. We are called to be there when the fish are, not try to organise the fish to be here at times which suit us.
God calls people into our fellowship. We are called not to question their past misdemeanours or the present marital status, sexual orientation, belief or lack thereof. We are not called to explain who Jesus was and the importance of believing his supernatural status. We are called to rejoice that here is a person God has called into our fellowship to make their contribution. To be clean and ready nets, or in the word picture of the parable of the sower, the good and prepared ground, ready to nurture these people into the persons God made them to be.
If we try to do God's work, to manhandle the fish into our particular pond, this is an exercise in futility, and will simply wear us out. God will get them here. Indeed, my experience is that God sends people into the fellowship of the Church, but it is so cluttered up with rules and regulations to adhere to, expectations to live up to, and no place what so ever to allow any further contribution to the fabric or ministry of the Church. I find it little wonder that many people come and leave almost as quickly.
The story of Jonah is instructive. I wonder if the greater miracle was that the thoroughly orthodox Jew would be seen in a pagan town urging them to turn to God, or that the inhabitants even to the King repented. It did not matter what Jonah actually said, whether the threat that they would be destroyed in forty days was actually what God wanted him to say or not. The miracle of having a person of the enemy coming to bring a word of God to them - meant that God cared. And of course the story ends up with the statement that he even cares for "Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?" (4.11)
God cares for us and for all. He calls us to play our part in the extension of the kingdom by not getting in the way of others. To be clean and mended nets, ready to welcome those whom God will send, and so be fishers "of people".
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.