For years I marveled that the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus came to the Galilee, then walked by someone – got their attention and said “follow me!” And they dropped everything and just did that. Mark says “Immediately they left their nets…” They leave fathers with torn nets, they leave partners and coworkers, they leave home to follow this rabbi they had just met.
It has not seemed reasonable or even a healthy thing to do – just follow someone whom you did not know.
It took me years until it dawned on me that the writer of the Gospel of Mark in his brevity manages to give us the wrong impression. Notice that the passage starts out Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
What is missing in the Gospel account is that these men whom Jesus called had probably heard Jesus teach. He may have spoken with them or at least recognized them from those who cam to listen and perhaps engaged him in conversation.
Jesus invitation was not a cold call. It was part of a larger burgeoning relationship.
In the reading from Jonah we also have a call – Jonah is called by God to preach to the great city of Ninevah. But Jonah doesn’t want to go to Ninevah – and he doesn’t care about the people of that city. Jonah responds to his call only after first running away (and finding himself in an ordeal with the fish…) Then grudgingly and with great reluctance Jonah sets out and entered the large city sharing the message – telling the people they need to turn back to God (to repent). AND wonder of wonders THE PEOPLE LISTEN… in the hyperbole of the Old Testament) “the whole city fasts and repents…” God changes his man on destroying the city and life for them is changed.
Back in Galilee the men call do not try to run away from Jesus, but readily accept the invitation. So we should really note how Jesus invites these men. He doesn’t tell them that he will make them a prophet, a rabbi, a Levite or a scribe. He doesn’t invite them to write poetry or to evangelize on street corners. Jesus knows they are fisherfolk and so Jesus invites them to live out their passion, their skill, in as new way and for a different purpose – “I will make you fish for people.” He tells them that what they love to do and are good at can be used for God’s work. And they are eager to do it. Also in that statement, “I will make you fish for people”, is the promise of greater things. What we do, what we see, what we hope for — will change if we catch the vision Jesus offers us.
At this point it begins to make sense why they left their boats and nets and literally changed the direction of their lives. Jesus’ vision for the kingdom came from the Hebrew scriptures, from the prophetic utterances that spoke of a world and society based on compassion and justice.
Jesus vision is the kingdom God envisions. Congregations who accept and share the vision are to act in the surrounding society making it more just and more caring for all.
Change is difficult, until we realize that everything changes and the only point in a changing universe that does not change is God. God is the rock, the still point on which we can rely even in the midst of all the change around us. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who authored the original book of common prayer phrased it: “that among the sundry and manifold changes of the world our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found..”
For these fisherfolk and for Jonah the cost of following the call of God was overshadowed by what could be accomplished for others and by a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in their lives by following the call, grasping the vision and living into it.
In this season of Epiphany – of showing forth – we are invited to listen for the way in which God calls us and to catch the vision Jesus shares of how we can choose to live in the world to reshape it.
We may not be called to fish for people – but we may be called to use our skills, gifts and passions in service to God’s people.
It takes listening and discerning to know when we are being called. God calls not just to ordination or other churchy kinds of jobs – God calls people to all manner of ways to help, to care and to serve. I fully believe that those who teach, those who care for the ill and elderly, care for children, those who help feed and clothe the poor are all fully living out the vision of God for a world of caring and compassion. And we must not forget that prayer itself is important work which sustains and upholds all of us in our work and ministries.
Different seasons of life require different ways to answer the different call we may hear and lead us to different ways to answer it.
Listen – listen carefully – who or what is calling you?
Take your time to discern how will you answer?