GOSPEL READING Mark 1:14-20
The Holy Gospel according to Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
This past week I watched a movie I hadn’t seen in a long time called Gone Fishin starring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci as two fools whose only passion in life is to fish. They do some fishing, they battle some alligators, they wreck some boats, but the interesting thing is they never catch a fish the entire movie!
It reminded me of a parable I’ve heard before: There once was a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, which equipment to use. They invested in boats and gear and a fishing shop, hired a staff. One day, a little child stood up in their meeting and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen—how come you’ve never caught a fish?” No one in the village had ever actually caught one. They had never even been fishing.
We are not called to be keepers of the aquarium—Jesus calls us to be “fishers of people,” to catch folk up in God’s grace, love, and salvation. Now we are not the first people to be reluctant to share our faith with strangers. The book of Jonah, one of the oldest books in the Bible, tells the familiar story of a reluctant evangelist. Rather than heeding God’s call to reach out to the strangers in Nineveh, Jonah fled in the other direction. Ironically, in his reluctance to be a “fisherman” for God, he became fish bait! Even after the big fish spewed Jonah back onto shore, even after Jonah went and converted the people of Nineveh, he still had no compassion for them.
I hope our problem is not a lack of compassion or a lack of desire. Maybe we truly want to be “fishing people” for Jesus but need some specific direction for the task. I like fishing, but for some people it doesn’t make sense to them. Some people like to go to batting cages, some like to golf. I tried those for a while, but my relaxation from fishing for people, comes from standing around with my thoughts and trying to catch fish.
There’s a lot in scripture that doesn’t make sense…but the story of Jonah going to Nineveh, the focus is on his unwillingness to share God’s word with the Assyrians. Jonah was, after all, a prophet of Israelite greatness and prophesied fortune and success for evil kings. He had no interest in a message that might convince the Ninevites to repent and be saved because it would mean death for him and his people. Jonah makes sense to me.
What makes no sense is the Ninevites response to Jonah’s lackluster preaching. Jonah walked one day through a city that was as wide as a three days’ walk, bringing a dismal message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Instead of ignoring or laughing at this foreign Israelite prophet, the Ninevites repented. Their king proclaimed a fast for humans and all domesticated animals in hopes that God would relent. The Ninevites listened to God’s word, even when it didn’t make much sense. The actions of the Ninevites after they listened to God’s call changed God’s mind.
In the gospel we have the calls of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was a prominent scholar and miracle worker, according to tradition, but the extent of his power, teachings, mission and love were far from well-known at this early point in his ministry. When the disciples were called to join Jesus’ mission, leaving a safe and predictable fishing career in the prosperous Sea of Galilee might not have made the most sense. Yes, a great rabbi was offering an opportunity to men whose lives were already decided and laid out before them. But, as we find from reading the rest of the Gospels and Acts, Jesus called his disciples not just to learning and opportunities to witness miracles but also to dangers and, for most of them, violent martyrdom. This call doesn’t make the most sense. Yet the disciples chose to heed God’s call, even when they didn’t understand the fullness of what it entailed.
God is calling us today to things that don’t make sense: waging peace in a violent world; radical sharing of communal wealth in a world of hoarding; total welcome in a world of nationalism and suspicion of others, just to name a few. In a time when righteousness is frequently tied to respectability, we are called to follow a man condemned by religious elites and murdered by Roman law and order.
The call of God doesn’t make much sense. But the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight. We are called to embrace God’s wisdom and God’s call on our lives.
So often, we want to be like Jonah. We hear God’s call and we turn the other way and run as far as we can go. We don’t want to disrupt things, especially things that we’ve worked so hard for. We listen to the voices saying that we can’t make a difference, so we just need to make do—and we end up with Jonah in the belly of a big fish, out of touch with God and out of touch with our meaning and purpose that God is trying to gift us with. To “repent and believe in the good news,” as Jesus asks us in our Gospel lesson, means that we must turn to God and turn away from all the voices calling us to walk some other path.
Another thing that doesn’t make sense is we are often afraid of God—afraid to follow the very one who is our rock and our salvation. It doesn’t feel safe to follow God, does it? Even though it is only with God that we know the deepest peace, the greatest protection when we are weary, the healing that makes us whole, the call that echoes in our bones. But even with all those things, we know that God is not tame. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit will move. We can’t control God and that scares us.
When we hear the words, “The Word of the Lord came to so-and-so…” we know that the person who is experiencing the Word of the Lord is in for a life-changing experience. The word translated as “came” actually means “happened” in Hebrew. Think about how that changes our story of Jonah: “The Word of God happened to Jonah a second time.” Words are important. Jonah knows what to expect when the Word of God happens to a person and they refuse to respond. Jonah ran the other way the first time. So, this second time, Jonah responds to God with faithfulness and sets out to warn the people of Nineveh of their impending destruction. Jonah has learned discipleship the hard way.
Jonah is an early example that discipleship comes with a cost. It means we might have to give up a comfortable, safe life.
It means we turn away from the voices that plague us and follow the One who is leading us to a new way of being—the One that is “happening” to us. We don’t have to worry or fear, though. We bring to God’s service all the gifts and abilities we already have, and we trust that we will always receive new gifts and the power to use them. It is unsettling—because we are not used to it. We’re used to maintaining the status quo. But we have this one, beautiful life and it demands that we give it our best, no matter what our age, our education, our economic status, our insecurities—no matter what. And who knows what our best is better than God?
But what does this all mean for us tonight/today? Well when we decide to fish, I have picked a few things fishing for fish that has taught me some things about fishing for people over the years. First, fishing requires patience. As a child, I had little patience. If I failed to get a nibble immediately, I would pull my bait out of the water and cast to another spot. It had to be a quick fish to get on my hook! The unchurched may have no experience of God’s love or may even have had a negative experience with religion. They may be highly resistant to an invitation to hear the gospel. Great patience is required to convey Christ’s love to a person whose only exposure to church may have been harmful.
Another thing is there is a right time to fish. There are certain times of the day when the tides and temperatures are conducive to fishing. There are right and wrong times to evangelize also. If we listen, people will give us hints about when the time is right. They may ask our advice about a problem or for our opinion about world events, whereupon we can then say, “You know, my belief in God gives me strength in facing that sort of thing.”
Then there is a right place to fish. You cannot catch fish in a baptismal font. You must leave the church building and go where the fish are. Jesus did. He didn’t hide out in the synagogue. Jesus went into the streets and marketplace, into the villages and homes of people. We must reach out to people in need wherever they are.
Finally, serious fisherfolk mourn over the loss of a fish. They regret having one get away. But even if they come home without fish, they are glad they tried. And, they will try again. People really do want to hear about salvation and hope, about life and love given through Jesus. We need not be timid with our valuable message. One of the most selfish thing in the world is to discover the joy and peace of God’s love and then refuse to share it with others.