I have puzzled over this story. What makes those disciples drop their nets and follow Jesus?
What would prompt you to walk away from your boat and your father?
As I’ve looked over how I have preached this story in the past, it is run the gamut of thoughts.
I’ve looked at it romantically. With starry eyes, I’ve speculated on the faith and trust of Peter, Andrew, James and John how they must have just known, sensed somehow that Jesus was someone special and so were willing to lay down their former lives to follow.
I’ve looked at the story through the lens of Jesus’ power and charisma. I’ve thought about how powerful a speaker Jesus must have been, how convincing, and imagined him to have perhaps those blue, piercing eyes so often portrayed in the movies. They were compelled by his charm, his confidence, his abilities to tell stories and to intersect with their lives and to lead. That’s what makes them drop their nets by the shore…they were simply mesmerized!
I’ve looked and considered the story from an economic viewpoint. Fishing was not all that great a job, at least not at this time in history when the Roman Empire was extracting fish from the Sea of Galilee in great quantities to make their coveted Garum fish sauce for shipment back to Italy. The lake was being depleted. We know that from historical records and from the Gospels themselves, where astounding catches are rare and finding full nets are seen as a miraculous event. They followed Jesus because fishing for people seemed a better prospect that tending smelly nets, and they just were not catching much anymore.
And, I believe that those approaches to this story each have their merit.
Certainly there is something that stirs in the hearts of the disciples that compel them to follow, but I find that harder to see as a motivation for me.
I’m just not feelin’ it, Jesus. Not after 2000 years. I want to follow you, I really do, but you understand, I have responsibilities. I have to make my living, care for my family. Peter, Andrew, James and John could leave it all behind maybe, but I can’t. I can’t follow Jesus out of some romantic sense of wanting to be with Jesus.
And, while I still find Jesus Charismatic and compelling, a powerful idea and an influence, I have to say that I’m not able to follow where Jesus calls just because of who he is!
I live in the real world where there are competing viewpoints of Jesus’ charismatic appeal. My heart burns sometimes when I perceive the Word, and at other times, I have to say that I struggle with his teaching and commands.
I want to follow, I really do, but I just can’t hold the excitement the way perhaps those who walked along side of him on the lake shore could because he was near. I feel the nearness of Jesus… sometimes.
At other times, not so much, and so when I try to lean on a “feeling” for following Jesus, I often find the feeling is brief, momentary, or I find myself easily distracted by the next “shiny” thing that catches my eye.
And as for that economic viewpoint? Well I’m a little skeptical here too. I believe that following Jesus does bring me blessing upon blessing, but not in the “prosperity gospel” kind of way, where following Jesus will give me earthly comfort.
It has (in fact) been my experience that faithful people often struggle to put food on their own table and make decisions that are not in keeping with the accumulation of their own wealth and comfort. They do so because they feel Jesus calls them to deny their own self comfort in order to follow and to serve others.
And, I find that those who are wealthy and who tend to accumulate more wealth often struggle with how to follow Jesus in the midst of having “so much.”
In fact, some have argued that one of the interesting points of this story is contrasting Peter and Andrew with John and James.
Peter and Andrew are casting their nets from the shore, which would indicate that they are likely “dirt poor.” They can’t afford a boat, and all the accompanying gear to go out to where the fish are now. So, when Jesus calls for them, they drop their nets and follow because… meh… they’re not walking away from that much, why not try fishing for people?
Contrast that with the call to James and John, who are in the boat… with their father… mending their nets.
This is a family business, with inventory, overhead, and equipment!
If anything, James and John are likely raking it in selling their fish to the Garum merchants and undercutting the shore fishermen like Peter and Andrew, much like huge corporate trawling operations undermine the smaller fishing villages to this day.
When they answer the call to follow, they are walking away from being set for life!
So, what happens in the call to “follow me and I will make you fish for people” is an invitation that appears to be appealing both to those who are poor, and to those who are very rich.
That viewpoint dovetails with what we learned about John’s ministry, how all the Judean countryside were coming out to be baptized, both those of meager means and also the leaders and well to do.
While economics might play into the call to follow Jesus, it’s not so clear cut as the poor follow and the rich don’t, at least not in Matthew’s Gospel.
Which brings us back one again to the mystery of this call story, does it not? What does prompt them to drop their nets and follow, if it’s not romantic notions, or the charisma of Jesus, or the economic realities of their own plight or situation?
There is one other possibility and it is the one thing that is central to the story and at the same time the one thing we most often do not want to consider.
Maybe they drop their nets and follow Jesus because of his vision of a changed world.
“Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
“Repent” – turn around, change your life, go a new direction. That’s the invitation from both John and from Jesus.
From John, it is the invitation to simply examine your current life. Come, get washed up, prepared for where the Messiah may lead. Deal with all the things you have on your hands right now, look at them, see if they are worth holding on to in the presence of the Lamb of God.
From Jesus, the invitation comes to actively work for a different kind of world.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, is a different vision of how the world should work.
In the Kingdom, the poor will blessed and the mourning find comfort.
In the Kingdom, the rich will be sent away empty and the hungry will be filled with good things.
In the invitation to the Kingdom there will be an invitation to do things differently. To “fish for people”… to put relationships above profit, and community above taking care of yourself.
This is what we underestimate, or dismiss as unrealistic, or “not the way the world works.”
Of course, it’s not the way the world works!
It is the way the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven works, and what Jesus is saying in the Gospels is that the Kingdom of God can work here – right now!
But here is the thing, in order to get there, to have that Kingdom of God, that Kingdom of heaven right now, you have to be willing drop whatever it is that you have in your hands, right now!
Make no mistake, this is the moment that is operating here.
Jesus, we are told in Matthew’s Gospel has withdrawn to the region of Napthtali and Zebulun, — those two tribes of Israel who settled in the good and fertile area around the Sea of Galilee and who then discovered what it meant to have the “good stuff.”
Zebulun and Naphtali, lands who dwell in deep darkness, Isaiah says, because they are perpetually set upon by folks who want what they have, and who strip them of its plenty. If any area knows how this world works, it’s this area, beset with violence and unrest and injustice for centuries!
It is to the dangerous place that Jesus goes, the place that needs to hear of a different way of living than the one that has been experienced so far. Here Jesus begins to speak of the Kingdom.
It is here that Jesus says, “if you have two shirts, and are asked for one, give it to that person asking for it. Hey, and while you’re at it… give him your coat as well.”
Here Jesus says, “you know how the gentiles are, how they lord authority over one another, and how the Pharisees choose the best seats at the table? It shall not be so with you. When you are invited to a banquet, choose the lowest place.”
Pick a teaching of Jesus, and invariably what will make you scratch your head about that teaching is how different his teaching works than the way that we experience the world!
Nobody invites the poor, the lame, the indigent to their banquets and fundraisers! You invite the folks with the money, the folks with the connections, people with the power and influence to help you get what you want.
But in the Kingdom, those who are left out are put at the head of the table.
You have to see this!
What Jesus is offering fisherman beside the sea of Galilee, the rich and the poor alike, is a different world from the one they currently live in.
But to get such a world, such a Kingdom? You have to drop what you have in your hands right now.
And so. they drop their nets.
They walk away from what they have in their hands right at this moment, their livelihood, their privilege, the company business… all of it…on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, the world doesn’t have to stay the way it is right now.
Maybe God is about to do a new thing!
Maybe, the Kingdom of God is about to begin right here, right now, and might just happen, if we let go of what it is that we’re holding on to so tightly at this moment.
So, I ask you, “What do you have in your hands that you will need to drop to let the Kingdom of God come in?”
Is it your power?
Your political viewpoint?
Will it be your sense of how the world ought to work? Your sense of justice? Your anger or your own self-righteousness that you hold to so tightly?
Will it be your grudges, no matter how well founded? Your own security that comes at the expense of someone else?
What do you need to let drop out of your hand so that someone else could have enough, or a portion, or a measure of the abundance that God has placed in this world for all?
You see how scary this gets now?
How hard it is to believe and follow Jesus, because if I’m right, Peter, Andrew James and John didn’t just drop their nets because of some starry-eyed romantic notion about Jesus.
And they didn’t drop their nets because Jesus duped them with his charismatic charm.
And they didn’t drop their nets because they weren’t all that good a fishing in the first place or weren’t making any money at it, or didn’t like the smell.
No, they drop their nets because they are ready to change the world.
They see Jesus as the one who can lead them into a different way of living and being.
They drop their nets because they are sick and tired of seeing their own people begging on the street corners while others live in luxury in their palaces and laugh because the world is stacked in their favor and always has been and will never change.
They drop their nets because here is someone who says God’s Kingdom and will is for all to live in health, wholeness, and joy… the world can be changed, help me bring it about!
They drop their nets because Jesus gives them a vision of a better world that is within their grasp, if ALL would but drop what they are holding on to so tightly and learn how to care for one another.
Teach us how to live like that, Jesus!