This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage: Mark 1: 14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
So, I have to be honest. I’ve never really liked fishing. I like the thought of it and I love to eat fish and I understand the relaxation and the spiritual component that it holds for some people. But I’ve just never really been big on the actual act of fishing. When I was little, part of our ranch had a lake on it that my Grandfather had put in with the specific intent of having a place to fish. And my brother and I each had a fishing pole in the truck so that we would always be prepared to fish. (Yes, that was what I wanted to do was always be prepared to fish!) Even then, I didn’t get it. It was either really hot or really cold or really windy and usually we got in trouble for making too much noise and tipping the fish off that we were in their vicinity. And then there was that whole fish-cleaning thing!
My grandfather had this little boat that he used to lay trout lines across the lake and then part of going to the ranch with him was getting in this little boat and sitting there quietly and very still, feeling either too hot or too cold or too bored, while he slowly and painstakingly went across the lake checking to see if one of the hooks had a fish on it. We always wanted to take the boat up and down the lake but usually we just went across and back along the lines. I have to confess that I always thought that was sort of cheating—laying the fishing line out for the fish to bite when you weren’t even working for it. I mean, these poor fish would think no one was around and that they had just miraculously happened upon some random worm and then they were hooked. But I would sit there for what seemed like an eternity as we went across the lake. Like I said, I never really got fishing. In fact, I didn’t enjoy it at all. But, truth be told, those are wonderful memories. Because it wasn’t about the fishing. It was about spending time with my grandfather, sitting in our little boat trying to be quiet. And looking back on it, he could have bought fish at a store. Maybe he just wanted to spend time with us. See, I don’t think it was about the fishing.
So, in the passage for this week, do you think Simon and Andrew and James and John got up that morning planning to be approached by the Son of God? I mean, really, they were just minding their own business, trying to eek out a living like the rest of us, trying to perfect this art of fishing. And, really, how many people plan their day around God calling them? I’m sure they all had some other plan in mind. Well, there is an old Jewish proverb that reads “whenever someone says, “I have a plan,” God laughs.”
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that most of us do not plan to be a prophet or a disciple or even a heavily-involved church member. Most of us barely plan to do what it is we do. And when we have everything perfectly planned, when we’re not really paying attention to anything but our carefully-hewed pathway, God calls. Now not all of us pick up our stuff and start following immediately. Who are we kidding? Almost NONE of us do that. Maybe God has that response of ours already sort of baked in. Because so many of us pretend that we didn’t hear it, or convince ourselves that it was meant for someone else, or we bargain and plead because we just don’t have the time or the money or the inclination to do what we’re being called to do. The “lure” (do you see what I did there?..aargh…aargh) of this world—money, employment, security, control, comfort—almost always gets in the way.
But think about it. The disciples were actually probably relatively prosperous fishermen. They had a boat; they had gear; they had a plan. Within their culture, it implies that they were not uneducated or untrained or impoverished. They were not out of work. They had a pretty lucrative thing going. The point is that they actually had something that they had to give up to follow Jesus. They had to give up the self that they had fashioned to become who they were meant to be. See, God never promised that this road would be easy; the promise was that it was the one that was right, that was the way to who we are.
So this call story is not so drastically removed from our own. We are called each and every moment to change pathways, to become who we really are. But it means that we have to give up this self that we’ve created, this self that we’ve tried so hard to fit into this world. We have to follow. And that’s what discipleship is all about. It is not what we do; it is who we are.
Well, somewhere along the way this whole “fishers of people” thing caught on. We put it on T-shirts; we put it on posters; so does that mean we’re supposed to hook people when they’re not paying attention? And what about those of us who don’t really like fishing? The thing is, God calls us where we are. If fishing is what you do, then you keep doing it. You just make it about something bigger. After all, it’s not about the fishing. But we are not being called to do just anything (regardless of how many volunteers a project at your church claims it needs). We are called to use those unique gifts that God fashioned in each of us, to respond in the way that God envisions so that we can become who we are meant to be. Whatever gifts you have, whatever occupation is yours, whatever life you live, God is calling you to use. Because it’s about something more. Maybe it’s about showing others the way that you’ve been shown; Maybe it’s about grace; Maybe it’s about just spending time with God. We are not called to be something that we’re not, but to become fully who we are.
Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite writers. She tells in one of her books about a time in her life when she was struggling mightily with sense of call. She simply could not figure out what it was that God wanted her to do and be. Did God want her to be a writer? Did God want her to be a priest? Did God want her to be a social worker? Did God want her to teach? She simply didn’t know. And in her frustration and exasperation, one midnight, she says, she fell down on her knees in prayer and said: “Okay, God. You need to level with me. What do you want me to be? What do you want me to do? What are you calling me to do?” She said she felt a very powerful response, God saying, “Do what pleases you. Belong to me, but do what pleases you.” She said it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch that place of her greatest joy, that she could be called to do the thing that pleases her the most.
Frederick Buechner says, “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.” Think about what that means. God calls us. Sometimes it’s pretty scary. Sometimes we want to run away. Sometimes it means that we have to leave the life we’ve built behind. But following wherever God leads means that we will truly find joy. We will finally know what it’s all about. And it’s about more than the fishing.
The most secret, sacred wish that lies deep down at the bottom of your heart, the wonderful thing that you hardly dare to look at, or to think about…that is just the very thing that God is wishing you to do or to be for [God]. And the birth of that marvelous wish in your soul–the dawning of that secret dream–was the voice of God telling you to arise and come up higher because [God] has need of you. (Emmett Fox)
Grace and Peace,