“Discipled by Relationship”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.(NRSV)
Luke’s version of the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John strikes me as particularly authentic. And by “authentic,” I mean that in this story, I see four fishermen enter a relationship with Jesus the same way you or I might enter a relationship with someone we found trustworthy. In Luke, as in Matthew and Mark, Jesus shows up out of the blue, but he does not, as he does in Matthew and Mark, begin with a stark, “Follow me.” Luke’s Jesus seems to have a better understanding of human nature than that. He calls the men to discipleship by engaging them in his work.
Let’s enter the moment with the fishermen. They’re washing their nets after an unsuccessful night on the water. Whether they’ve caught fish or not, whether tomorrow will be any different or not – the tools of their trade must be examined and repaired. They must be kept clean and tangle-free. Now, nets are purely material objects. They have only so much usefulness, after which they’re discarded. But as long as they’re in use, they are crucial parts of the team. The fishermen know that there’s a certain relationship, a kind of mutuality, between themselves and even inanimate things like nets and boats.
That’s a universal sensibility for fishermen. They live in dynamic relationship and partnership with the various ebbs and flows of weather, water, and fish. So, the two sets of brothers know – in that way of knowing familiar to mystics, shamans, mothers, and fishermen – that there are reliable forces and purposes at work beneath the obvious and the tangible. And when they see those purposes and feel those forces, the men know that in some way, at some level, they’re already in relationship with these timeless realities.
Into that spiritually fertile environment, Jesus arrives.
Simon, will you take me just off shore in your boat? I want to talk to this crowd, and you know how well sound travels over water.
Sure, Rabbi, says Simon.
Simon rows out a little way and anchors the boat. And there, in the glorious synagogue of water, earth, and sky, Jesus sits and teaches the people.
Simon listens to Jesus. As he does, he also hears waves lapping against the sides of the boat. He feels the currents rock the small craft. He smells the wind. He watches the reactions of the crowd. It’s all of a piece to him. That’s how fisherman and disciples live – in perpetual, holistic, and loving awareness. Simon senses in Jesus something a bit less common and bit more compelling than your every-day, itinerate preacher.
When Jesus finishes, he turns to Simon and says, Let’s go out further so you can throw your nets in the deep.
Having been in relationship with this lake since he was a small boy, Simon knows the odds of success of daytime fishing after a fruitless night. Besides, he’s tired, and he’s got to go rest in order to be ready to fish all night, again. But Simon listened to Jesus. He watched the rabbi read the crowd like a fisherman reads the lake. He watched the crowd listen to and receive Jesus’ words of compassion, grace, and call. And he feels a deep heaviness within himself. And maybe it’s more of a fullness – a spiritual mirror to the physical heaviness of a net full of fish.
Well, Rabbi, says Simon, I’m not hopeful, but if you want me to, I’ll do it. Four men and two boats are barely enough to land the catch.
For all his spiritual depth and understanding, Simon is at a loss when he faces such extravagant abundance. And he reverts to the mindset of the world around him, a world driven by graceless merit and cruel retribution. In that world, blessedness is not something given, but something earned; and if something bad happens, one has only oneself to blame. Feeling overwhelmed and frightened in the presence of the embodiment of holiness and of the power of the very earth itself, Simon seems to feel that he has only two options: Escape or engage. So, he tries to send Jesus away.
Jesus has involved Simon, though. He included the fisherman in his ministry. Afterward, Jesus said, Now, let me help you.The two men have shared the kind of thing that they can’t easily dismiss or quickly forget. And when Simon tries to separate himself from Jesus on the grounds of his own lack of holiness, Jesus says, in effect, Not so fast, my brother. You’re a fisherman. I like that. I need that. And if you stay with me, the only difference is that you’ll be fishing for people.
Jesus never gives the order, “Follow me.” He involves Simon, Andrew, James, and John in his work. He values them, and treats them with the kind of respect given to close associates and partners. The decision the fishermen face, then, is not simply Do we follow him?but Do we keep on following him?
It seems to me that there’s no better invitation to the life of faith than to include others in what we’re doing. Rather than trying to begin with some “sinner’s prayer” or indoctrination, let’s include people in the work at hand. Answering questions just so and passive ascent to theological precepts are externals that are as easy to fake as they are to enforce – and, ultimately, to escape. True and lasting discipleship happens in relationship. It’s about engaging the Spirit’s ongoing work of creation and re-creation in the world. Maybe one can fake personal involvement, too, and that’s okay, because the work itself transforms those who take it on.
Again, the fishermen follow Jesus not because he tells them to, but because they can’tnotfollow him once Jesus has made them partners in ministry.
As we do ministry in Jesus’ name, the challenge for us is to lay aside fears and preconceptions, and to engage ourselves in Jesus’ work of compassion and justice in the world – then to invite others to join us in this work that we trust God has given us to do.
It’s the work, and God’s presence within it, that renovates the world and redeems all who labor.