Fishing for God?

Epiphany 3:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – – Ps 62: 6-14 – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – Mark 1:14-20

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

When I was a child, I would occasionally accompany my grandfather when he set out for an afternoon of fishing.  We would drive a few kilometres into the very flat Flemish countryside in northern France and eventually get to a quiet spot by a small river.  Out would come the fishing stool, the rods, the set of fish hooks, the lure, and the thermos flask of coffee.  And then would start a long afternoon of silence, watching the surface of the water for any sign of activity, unawares of passing time or the movement of the sun until it was time to pack up and go home.

Occasionally, a fish would be caught, delicately removed from the fish hook and set aside in a basket or in a bucket of water, eventually to be released back into the wild at the end of the day.

In the eyes of the child that I was, it seemed like a strange way of spending time and, to tell you the truth, I was a little anxious at the fact of catching a live creature frenetically trying to free itself from an unexpected turn of event. For my grandfather, the success of the afternoon did not seem to be measured in the size of the catch, but simply by the very doing of the non-activity of fishing – sitting quietly, watching for clues as to the presence of fish or not, second guessing what they might do, where they might go – and simply enjoying some quiet time in beautiful countryside, deep in unspoken thoughts and contemplating the beauty of creation.

I wonder what is your experience, what image comes into your mind when you think about fishing?

A similar bucolic meditative activity that bonds people in silence?

The deep sea diver with his harpoon prepared for a one to one encounter with his prey?

The return of the small fishing boat to the quayside with fishermen selling their catch to appreciative buyers who are longing for the freshest fish?

A high-sea sport where the human mind is pitted against that of a large fish, and technology and time mean the odds are inevitably loaded in favour of the one paying for the fishing expedition?

Or even the industrial size activity that fishing has become, with vast trawlers using cheap labour and catching and processing everything they can to fill supermarket shelves and freezers, while throwing away the dead collateral catch back to the ocean while making much environmental damage in the process?

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

As Jesus speaks to Simon and Andrew, there is context – they are professional fishermen on lake Gennesaret; that is their way of life and has been for generation, that’s what they have been trained to do, and that is what they are doing.  Casting their nets, possibly praying for a good catch. It is their livelihood.

When Jesus tells them to follow him, Simon and Andrew have no hesitation – they leave their boat and all they know, and follow this stranger.  The vaguest description of their new task: ‘to fish for people’, whatever that might mean for them, whatever Jesus has in mind by saying that – except perhaps as a description that might have at least some meaning to them.

Likewise for James and John – preparing for their day out on the lake with their father and the rest of the crew, mending the nets damaged by the previous day’s expedition, minding their own business.  Jesus calls and they both respond immediately by leaving father and boat behind and following him. No hesitation in their response.

They leave a way of life that they have known since birth, their source of income, perhaps even their own hopes and dreams, in order to respond to the call of Jesus – who has just arrived in Galilee to fulfil his role proclaiming that ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’ and inviting those hearing him to repent – in other words to examine and change their lives and proclaim the good news of God’s presence all around them to all.

The text tells us nothing about how Jesus selects these people, nor why they so readily accept his authoritative call to an uncertain life without even knowing him.

There is no glittering offer for them to ponder, no time to weigh up pros and cons, no comparison with other itinerant preachers that might have come their way.

We don’t even know anything about their spiritual lives except that the disciples seem to keep missing the point and flee when there is real danger, such as when Jesus is eventually arrested. And we know that following Jesus will lead them to a life of persecution and conflict.

Yet, all four of them stand up and go, and the story continues with Jesus starting to become noticed for miracles and deeds of power, living up to John the Baptist’s description that he is the one more powerful than him, the one who baptises in the Holy Spirit, the Son of God.

This encounter with Jesus is for them an Epiphany, a point when the divine crashes into their lives and turn them around.  A time when they know that the Kingdom of God is at hand – and they have their part to play in it.

Our first reading from the book of Jonah highlights how different God can turn out to be for those who eventually follow God’s call, begrudgingly, reluctantly and yet compellingly.

Jonah had been trying to escape God’s call for him to prophesy the destruction of the city of Nineveh, one of the great cities of the time – for its inhabitants’ wickedness against God.  He tries unsuccessfully to go into hiding, and eventually finds himself – after jumping in the sea – spending three days in the belly of a whale – prefiguring the three days of Jesus in the tomb

Unavoidably, Jonah does eventually bow to God’s call.  And Jonah’s words affect the population in such a way that they repent, change their way of life.  And God relents, and decides to not destroy them or their City after all.

A reminder that God only seeks good for humanity, not mindless vengeance.

St Paul, in the short passage of his first letter to the people of the City of Corinth which we read this morning, brings some urgency to the task of focusing on God.  Because for him, the end of the world was coming imminently in his lifetime and so nothing else mattered than preparedness to meet Jesus at his second coming.

After 2000 years we, like Paul, see the present form of this world passing away.  Those things which we took for granted as certainties – the ways in which we are governed, the structures of society, the balance of powers, our understanding of peace – are all under threat, only to be seen now as transitory when we thought they would last.

We are bombarded with negative news from all around the world and, even as Christians, we could easily lose heart at our sense of powerlessness to confront the evils that continue to be unleashed in our current world.

Yet, as we hear St Paul’s voice this morning, we are reminded that the anguish that we have today was shared by those among whom he ministered then.  And like them, we need to remember that the present form of this world is passing away even as it is being formed in front of our eyes.  Because the Kingdom of God continues to come near, Jesus Christ continues to call us, and we continue to be invited to respond and be the people of hope working for a new order.

We are called to ‘fish for people’ – not capturing everyone in nets against their will to satisfy a greedy God, but instead being joyful, thoughtful and purposeful presence in the world, awed at the wonder that surrounds us, playful in it, and being active witnesses to the one who gave his life to redeem us, that – in living our God-given life to the full, we may have time to fish for God.



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