“This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Change your hearts and minds and believe this Good News.”
The message that John the Baptist had been preaching was taken up by Jesus. Those words are the introduction to the story that follows.
What follows is the familiar story of Jesus calling the brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John to abandon their nets in order that they might become fishers of men. No sooner than Jesus implored these fishermen to follow him, than they did just that. What could have possessed them to drop everything and follow Jesus, this itinerant preacher?
This story has often been used to emphasise the fishers of men bit. We had that old Sunday School chorus. I will make you fishers of men if you follow me. Top of the Sunday School hit parade in the 1940s. For most of us it was great to sing but as children that was as far as it went. As we got older we found it became a popular topic for a sermon. An exhortation to bait the hook and gather converts. A bit too full on for many of us.
For me, I prefer to take the approach of answering questions that arise rather than baiting the hook, so to speak. Usually I try to dispel many of the myths people have about Christianity.
What struck me about this story was the apparent suddenness with which Simon, Andrew, James and John abandoned everything and “went off in the company of Jesus,” I wonder what Zebedee thought. I can only imagine what his comments were.
As you know I find it difficult to take the Bible at face value. As a consequence I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this story than fishing for new members, new converts, or new conversation partners.
Jesus was having a stroll by the Sea of Galilee and he met Simon, Andrew, James and John working as fishermen. He called to them and said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I was amused to read the NRSV version. It has Jesus saying I will make you fish for people. My twisted sense of humour asked who provides the chips?
I wonder what would those fishermen have thought about Jesus’ comment?
I think that they would have thought that they were being called into military action. As usual we need to look at the context. Jesus, upon hearing of the arrest of John the Baptist by the Roman authorities went down to the Sea of Galilee. This was no accidental destination. The occupying Romans were squeezing the fishing community by an exorbitant tax on every fish caught.
If we look back at the Old Testament we find similar use of the phrase ‘fishing for men’ used by prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel.
It was a euphemism for killing one’s enemies or exacting judgement on the rich. The significance of this would not be lost on the fishing community.
Remember, the Messiah was seen as one who would rescue Israel from the Romans and return it to the Jews.
Perhaps Jesus was being ambiguous, deliberately. Taking the story at face value it’s not a very spectacular story. Four, very ordinary people recruited.
Not typical candidates for military action. Surely there was a batman, superman or superwoman around to recruit. Somebody spectacular. Jesus was inviting the persecuted fishermen to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege and bring in the reign of God.
Jesus preached a kingdom where love reigned. Jesus did not invite the persecuted to follow him to fish for souls, or converts, or believers. Jesus invited the persecuted to follow him and learn how to usher in the Reign of Love.
Following Jesus is about joining a revolutionary movement to create peace through justice. To fight injustice bigotry and prejudice. It is tempting to simply breathe a sigh of relief that we are not expected to be full-time evangelists. We can carry on as before. goodness I don’t have to spend my life preaching on street corners. As comforting as that thought might be I think we are commanded to follow Jesus and become catchers of fish.
As followers of Jesus we must fight on all fronts to bring about this kingdom of love. If Jesus is recruiting ordinary people then He’s inviting all of us to have a go. of us feel we haven’t the gifts required. Many of us hang back because we’re afraid of commitment, failure of looking silly. Jesus has the habit of tapping us on the shoulder and saying “Come and have a go!” as it may seem, Establishing God’s Kingdom has something to do with us. It has something to do with you andwith me.
This story started with the calling of the four ordinary men as disciples. Abraham Lincoln said something like this. God must really love ordinary people. He made so many of them. Simon, Andrew, James and John were ordinary people earning their living by fishing.
Are we the fishers or are we the fish? The fish who are willing to sit back and enjoy the benefits of unjust systems of oppression by the rich and powerful or are we the fishers, The ones who are invited to follow Jesus in the hope that we might learn to usher in the new kingdom?
We, too, are ordinary people that Jesus can use in extra-ordinary ways if we only answer His call to follow Him.