Third Sunday after Epiphany / Proper 3
21 January 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Years ago I attended a funeral for the grandmother of our son’s girlfriend at the time. The grandma and her husband had been on a journey through a variety of conservative Christian denominations and had ended up in what our friends described as a Pentecostal church. I have no idea if that was an adequate description for I know a number of Pentecostals whom I hold in high regard.
The funeral for grandma was held at a funeral home, not sure why. It was a strange service, though most of the reasons why I remember it as strange I cannot recall. That is because all the other strange things were eclipsed by the preacher’s preaching of conversion. We were trapped, he had a captive audience, and what better time to win souls for Jesus than when you can scare them with death and damnation. Five times the preacher called on people to come forward to give their life to Jesus. No one went. It was awful. I considered coming forward to make it all stop. But I wasn’t sure what would be said about me in the community if he found out I was a follower of Jesus already and a pastor to boot. And, I guess, once I was up there, I did not know what he might have done next. And so we just sat through it all.
It would have been comical had it not been so sad.
It was self-centred, for the preacher’s agenda superseded the need of the family.
It was bad theology, for it failed to emphasize that it is God who finds us before we find God (as so beautifully illustrated in today’s Gospel).
It was profoundly disrespectful of everyone there.
Perhaps the image Jesus uses as he calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, was the image the preacher had in the back of his mind. “I will make you fish for people,” might have sounded to him as not giving people a choice but putting out the bait and reeling them in. And there are plenty of people who will never question their own motivation simply because they believe they are acting in the name of Jesus.
A really nice and well meaning family once gave me a T-Shirt from a vacation spot they had visited. The T-shirt had a hook and a fish on it and the caption read, “I am hooked on Jesus.”
I could never bring myself to wear it, though I would have liked to to show my appreciation. Being hooked had all the wrong connotations. I thought of substance abuse. Or of being merely a fish that was being reeled in without any choice in the matter.
The fact that the T-Shirt was two sizes too large gave me a good excuse.
Contrary to all this there is no coercion and there are no threats in the story of the call of Simon and Andrew, James and John. Jesus invites them and they follow. Of course, it sounds very simply in Mark. They simply leave everything to follow Jesus. There may have been a lot of forth and back. Their family for one, “What, you are leaving us? We need you for the family business.” Or the disciples might have wondered about Jesus’ language of fishing for people, misunderstanding now as they would later.
But I have always thought that they knew why they followed, even if they may not have been able to put it into words, but coercion, had nothing to do with it.
Instead, when Jesus calls them he uses language they can understand. They knew something about fishing so he connected with their skill.
There is a children’s Christmas book we own that is our very favourite one.1 It takes us along of the journey of the shepherds until – together with them and the magi – we arrive at the stable. But here’s the thing: Along the way they meet others they invite along.
There’s a man tending a well.
A fisherman who fishes.
A farmer who sows.
And a married couple working in the vineyard.
All of them decline the invitation, for just as an angel had appeared to the shepherds, the angel had also appeared to them. And so they answer the shepherds that they do what they do because the child to be born will have need of the water, the fish, and the bread and wine.
They don’t follow the star but they follow Jesus.
God uses their gifts. And Jesus speaks the language of theses fisherman as Jesus speaks our language and calls us to serve.
They are all called to be a community, to be the community we call church. When Jesus says that he will make them fish for people, he does not only speak their language and meet them where they are at, but he calls them into a new community. He calls them to be a new community. Fish for people also means that there will be others.
Late last year I bought a new small commentary on the New Testament.2 It is an African American commentary because depending on who you are you will see things that others who do not share your story may not see. And so I learned that Jesus proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom of God in the face of John’s arrest. Jesus proclaims justice in the face of injustice.
We see that Jesus wants a lot more than an altar call but he invites us into a community that will not only transform us but will also be transformative for the world.
That’s what the call is about. It’s Jesus’ own call. And he makes it clear to the rest of us. This is about more than Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour, though it is that as well. This is about Jesus our Lord, the Prince of Peace, and about the inauguration of his reign.
2 True to Our Native Land – An African American New Testament Commentary, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press 2007