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Fishing is for Everyone (January 21, 2018)

I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men — remember the old Sunday School song?

Remember the next line — if you but follow me.

If you but follow me I will  make you fishers of men. Pretty awesome, pretty easy.  Right?

That’s part of the text of today’s readings that grabbed my attention and I find it both exciting and comforting.  I’ll attempt to explain why but first let’s deal with that word that ‘glares’ at us 21st century people.

Men — I will make you fisher of men, just doesn’t sound the same when you sing I will make you fishers of people. It just doesn’t sound great to say people BUT it does seem to exclude women if so men. .

Many also look at the fact that Jesus called James, John, Andrew and Simon Peter — there was no 50% mix of genders like our Prime Minister would want.

Was that the intent? I don’t think so. But if we look at the culture of the people when this was written it does make total sense.

One big reason is men would have been out working along the shores. Men would be doing the fishing and mending the nets — women wouldn’t have been there. Men could follow Jesus without fear of being called a harlot or worse. Men were traditionally the leaders of the day and were listened to by others — women, not so much. At least not visibly — I’m sure lots of politicking was done behind closed doors by the real leaders of the land!!  However, Jesus was indeed followed by many women and neither Jesus nor Mark were trying to leave them out here.

If we look at Mark 15:40 we will see .. there were women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger of Joses, and Salome. They used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

Some of these women may be hidden in the stories of women who demonstrate faith in Galilee and Tyre and Sidon: the woman in the crowd, the Syrophoencian mother, and the anointing one.  There are probably many who were called, rose, were healed and followed. Let’s not forget it was women who went to the tomb on Easter morning and called the men to see.

Looking at it this way, I think the phrase ‘fishers of men’ simply refers to people or mankind, or humankind which is the way it’s written now in many translations.

So, that doesn’t let us women off the hook — we’re invited to become fishers of people too.

Let’s go back now to where I said I found these words comforting.

Yme said last week Jesus invites people to ‘Come and See’ — he doesn’t force them, he doesn’t coerce them and he doesn’t beg them — he invites and leaves it to them to decide for themselves.

The same is true this week when he says, ‘Come, follow me.’ We get to choose whether we accept the invitation or let it go. And, we get to make that decision each time an opportunity is presented. The more often we say yes, the more likely it will become a way of life and get easier.

But Jesus takes the initiative and does the inviting — he doesn’t wait for us to find a good time, the right time or be in the right head space. He appears, says follow me and the rest is history…

He doesn’t say, repent and follow me to be a fisher of people or show me your resume and I’ll see if you measure up or what’s your family history and your social standing, he doesn’t say make sure you know the Bible/Torah and then I have a job for you— he says follow me and I’ll make you fisher’s of people

He will make us fishers of people — that implies to me that he will do the work if we but willingly follow.  Pretty simple stuff, right? Follow with an open heart expecting good things and He will both present the opportunity and do the work.

Another comfort is that he calls James and John who are called the sons of Thunder — so we know that can still be ourselves as we follow. He actually calls many different personalities and occupations to be among the 12 disciples and he still does today. By all accounts the disciples were ordinary folk of varying status in the community and as we’ll see later with Paul they weren’t always open to the Christian way at first call. The disciples ‘call’ to become fishers of people was certainly not as dramatic as Paul’s but was probably just as life-changing.

Nor was it like Jonah’s in the first reading… Jonah was called to deliver a message to people he didn’t like and whom he hoped wouldn’t accept the message. Jonah tried to avoid taking the message but finally clued in that was what God wanted him to do and did it — God used him to save a people.  And he had to be called twice and he was told what to say.  That’s comforting too – if I don’t get it right the first time I’ll still be called again.

In today’s reading there are no further instructions for the fisherfolk — Jesus simply says, “follow me and I’ll make you fishers of people”. People along the highways and byways of life, people we meet in the street and the grocery store and at our workplaces and even online – we never know where those waiting to hear the good news may pop up in our lives.

I also like the fact that it’s fishermen he invites in his first act of ministry — fishermen who cast their nets out and see what will come back, fishermen who never know what the day will bring; people who hope, accept success today and defeat tomorrow and still try again.

Fishermen work together – the fisherman along the seashore didn’t work alone either to cast the nets or pull them in.  Now they would work with one another and with Jesus – that’s good news for me too – no expectation that I’m on my own to get it right.

He invited fishermen. He didn’t invite carpenters who take a chosen product and do the work to craft it into something beautiful or useful. Right away the expectation of me is lessened — I can cast a net and see what happens-  Might catch nothing or maybe a full net.

They were fishermen — people used to doing the same thing every day and, as I said, they are unsure of the result. Fisherfolk also had to be prepared for the unexpected – who knows what may land in their nets. They cast the net over the water, let it fall where it lands, let it sit while the fish lose their wariness of it and slide in and then they bring it back to shore to check whether they got anything or not. Their catch would come in all shapes, sizes and kinds of fish. Fishing is not a fast process either — lots of time for thinking and watching and doing other things as they wait for the net to do it’s work. Once it’s in, emptied and the catch dealt with they start all over.

If we decide to be fisher’s of people, as invited, then we just need to cast out the net and see what happens and who, or what, pops into the net and then reel it in.

I think culturally, these four made a huge change in their lives. In their time men were expected to provide for the family, including the extended family and therefore the expectation would be that these men stayed in the family business to take over from their father when the time came. They weren’t out looking for a career change – let alone a life change. Leaving to follow Jesus for them meant giving up everything, their way of life, their family status, their livelihood and possibly their friends. Notice that they left what they were doing immediately and they didn’t stop to weigh their options or ask questions. Boy, I know I’d be asking what the end game is – they just left and followed.

But the good news is we don’t have to do leave our families, our friends or our jobs, we just have to intentionally follow.

I think for most of us it does requires a little more effort than ‘following’ someone on Facebook or Twitter  or Instagram.  We can’t just sit back in our easy chair and watch for a posting and ‘like’ it. We do have to cast the net out and with Jesus help reel it in.

And, for your net to be effective you have to continually inspect it and sometimes get rid of a piece that is rotting and weave in a new piece and other times you need to retie the frayed pieces and then you’re ready to cast it again.

When I look at my net I sometimes see something I need to give up — and sometimes I need to repair a section that has frayed — realign with my goals. Sometimes I cast it out and forget to bring it in and it sits in the water too long. So we do need to inspect our nets now and again too.  But maybe that’s what we all need to do just be prepared to cast our nets and bring them back, inspect them, mend when necessary and then cast again.  Maybe sometimes we can dangle a line instead of a net or spend some time fly fishing. — no matter how we fish the most important thing we have to do is to make the decision to follow.

And He will make us all fisher’s of people.


Sermon preached by Deb Saffin (January 21, 2018)

Mark 1: 14-20

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10