Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Have you ever been asked to do something without thinking? Given a command that was so urgent you dropped everything to obey?
In our text this morning it seems that is what Jesus is doing. As Jesus walks along the seashore he simply calls to some fishermen and they follow, apparently without any second thoughts! listening this story, we may find ourselves wondering how we would respond if we were in the place of Simon, Andrew, James and John. I know when I think about it, I realize I am probably more like Nathaniel from our gospel reading last Sunday. If something seems too good to be true (We found the Messiah!), I am likely to question the news, and frankly doubt its truth. Perhaps that is my Midwest upbringing but there it is. But I know others who are more ready and willing to simply say yes and follow. So, what is it that makes some people more reluctant and others more willing? Does personal experience make someone jaded? Is it gullibility or an easy going childlike nature that lets someone say yes with very little thought beforehand? I don’t know if we will ever know for certain, but I do know that no matter where we find ourselves, Jesus seems to know exactly how to invite us into following him. And it is this skill that he intends to share with his disciples when he promises to make them fishers of people. For us 21st century believers it is a skill we need to learn as well.
But here’s the thing, I am not much of a fisherperson in the first place. I’ve tried in the past and the whole relaxing nature of it appeals to me, but I never seem to catch anything! I have tried fishing on riverbanks, in ponds and lakes, even off an ocean pier, but all I’ve ever caught is a tiny catfish maybe 5 inches long! So, it is hard for me to grab onto this image Jesus uses. Still, I think there is merit in the metaphor. I know enough of fishing to understand there are some basic things you need to be successful and I believe these apply whether you are angling for fish or people.
First you need the right bait. Often when fishing you use things like worms or nightcrawlers. Unless of course you are fly fishing in which case you use an intricately tied mimic of a fly floating above the water’s surface. Regardless, the important thing is that it needs to be something desirable to whatever you are trying to catch. For fish it means something edible. But luring people with food isn’t necessarily going to lead them to a life of discipleship, even if it is something helpful. Still the basic principle is sound. Why do the fish go after the bait? What makes it desirable to them? Quite simply, it meets a basic need, it sustains their life. Fish are attracted what they need to survive.
For people then the “bait” we offer likewise needs to be essential and valuable; something that sustains them and offers life, not just for day to day, but true life. The gospel, forgiveness of sin and the promise of life eternal, offers to all who accept it, the promise of eternal salvation and life everlasting in God’s kingdom. This is what we offer the world: grace, acceptance, love to sustain a person now and to give hope for the future. Do not dismiss these things lightly. They are critical to making a person whole. As Jesus said, “man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” So, in essence the bait we use to attract people is nothing less than the gospel itself.
Second, successful fishing requires being in the right location. If you want to catch a fish, then you need to go to where it lives. If you want to catch salmon, you don’t fish in the Mississippi river! Now, as I said earlier, I am not a fisher so beyond that little nugget of wisdom, I can’t offer much more insight. But I am sure there are some listening who could offer lots of wisdom about knowing where and when it is best to fish. However, I do know that when it comes to catching people for Jesus, we must enter into another person’s life. We can’t simply sit within the four walls of a church building and expect others to come to us. We need to be about the business of taking the gospel to them, where they are and then inviting them to join in with all the rest of us who have been caught in the nets of the Lord.
Finally, and perhaps the hardest part, is patience. Just as any good fisher knows, waiting for a fish to bite, can be time consuming. In the same way we can’t rush someone into a relationship with Christ. Instead, we must continue to extend the invitation in love and humility. We live out the example of what the gospel has done in our own lives, and then be patient as we wait for the Holy Spirit to act in the life of another person. And yes, this can take a long, long time. We may not even see the fruit of our efforts because it may take several attempts, by several different fishers, before someone is willing to say yes to Jesus. But this shouldn’t keep us from obediently following where Christ leads and fishing for people on his behalf. In the end this is what following Jesus is all about. It is the central core of discipleship—sharing the gospel message in the middle of a great and vast ocean filled with a great diversity that Christ continues to call today.
One of my favorite prayers is that of St Teresa of Avila who wrote:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
When I consider the call of Jesus to those first disciples along the shore of Galilee, I believe he was inviting them to one day become his hands and feet in their world. In the same way you and I are called to be little Christs in our world today, sharing the gospel and fishing for people. So, let us heed the call of our Lord, not hesitating, but with excitement and an eager spirit. Amen.