Fishers of Men

(Year B, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, January 21, 2018; Gospel Reading from Mark 1:14-20)

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:17-18 (ESV)


Jesus with Fishermen

What does it mean to be “fishers of men”?  This passage is typically used in sermons on evangelism, and the importance of preaching the Gospel to all nations.  There are two features of the reading that I want to focus on in this reflection:  first, using the occupation of being a fisher rather than, say, a carpenter (Jesus could have easily found craftsmen after his earthly father’s trade and called them to be “builders on the Foundation” or something similar); second, the immediacy and totality of the disciples’ answer to the call.

The Galilean seaside, where Jesus grew up, would have hosted many who claimed the occupation of fisherman.  To many today in an almost post-scarcity world, to be a fisherman is to be a sportsman, and the focus is on claiming the largest, the strongest, the best fighter of the denizens in the pond.  This is almost the exact opposite of what the fisherman who is a tradesman is after – rather than biggest, strongest, meanest, the tradesman is concerned with quantity above all else.  Because for the tradesman, this isn’t about bragging rights.  Who cares if I net the meanest fish in the pond if my net and the rest of the haul are ruined with its thrashing?  Who cares if I can boast in my prowess at landing a monster fish if there’s not enough for sale to fund my misadventure?

Here, I think, is one of the first clues why the Author chose fishers to be Jesus’ first disciples.  They would understand the logic and strategy of the divine mission.  Whereas a carpenter would be preoccupied with the quality of their work (not a bad goal in and of itself, but still potentially a stumbling block to pride), a fisherman would understand that the goal was not to net the best followers for Christ, but as many as possible – and God would concern Himself with their quality.

Another reason for the call of fishermen is that it is the fulfillment of prophecy.

In Jeremiah 16:15-21, the prophet relates the words of God to say that He will send fishers and hunters after His people, to catch them and hunt them from “every mountain, every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.”  There is good reason to believe that Jesus calling his first disciples from Galilean fishermen is a fulfillment of this prophecy.  Beyond the literality of Jeremiah foretelling divinely appointed fishers and Jesus literally calling fishers to be “fishers of men,” Jeremiah 16 foretells an in-gathering of wanderers (vv. 15-16); God demanding recompense for iniquity (vv. 17-18); and calling Gentiles (“the nations”) to acclaim the Lord (vv. 19-21).   Does this sound familiar?

To me, the choice of fishermen as the first disciples is an interesting detail, but the real message of the passage, the one that has immediate resonance with us, comes in their response – immediate and decisive.  There were no negotiations, no longer conversations, simply Jesus issuing his call, and the fishers leaving everything – home, livelihood, even family – to follow him, not knowing with any kind of certainty what would come of doing so.  This is the kind of obedience we are to have – immediate and decisive.  When given the choice between following the call of Jesus and anything else, the true disciple chooses the call of Jesus.

To be clear, where the cares of the world do not interfere with following that call, there is no charge to neglect or scorn them.  However, we must ever be on guard that we do not place those cares in a de-facto place of primacy, only following Jesus at the convenience of our situation.  This is why there is no contradiction in Paul exhorting the Church to obey those in authority and the Apostles disobeying the authoritative call to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus: the understanding is that insofar as the authority is in step with the Authority of God it is to be obeyed.  Yet when the authorities require what is alien or even abhorrent to God, the Christian chooses to be out of step with the earthly authority, in order to be in-step with the Authority in Heaven.

This week, pray for readiness and willingness to obey the call of Christ without question, trusting in His Goodness to be your rest, your certainty, and your peace.  Seek to be like first century fishers, more concerned about casting a wide net for Christ-followers, and not on landing the most desirable, most liked, most impressive.  As you pray for your obedience, and your personal evangelistic mission, pray also for world missions, that missionaries would be bolstered by the Spirit of God.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

“And Such Were Some of You.”

This Reflection was preached as a homily on 14 January 2018.

(Year B, Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 14, 2018; Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 6:9-20)

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11 (ESV)

Paul of Tarsus

A litany of the things that will keep you out of the Kingdom may seem like a lectionary reading more suited to either Advent or Lent:  in Advent to highlight the nature and character of the final judgement, in Lent to highlight the penitential heart we must have as we approach the Great Feast of Easter.  Why is it here in our lectionary for the Second Sunday of Epiphany?  Why am I preaching on it instead of either Samuel or Nathanael being called to God’s service, or instead of the revelations in store for those that choose to follow Jesus?  Why am I focusing today on Paul’s rebuke of misbehaving churchmen and women in Corinth?

The season after Epiphany is characterized in the lectionary by stories of, chiefly, the apostles “getting it” about who Jesus is – from Nathanael proclaiming Jesus as Son of God, to Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Christ (remembered in the Church Calendar this coming Thursday), the nature of the season is that of having a “lightbulb” moment.  So again, why am I focusing on a litany of sins, and one that explicitly includes an item which makes the world hiss and spit and rage at us for our “intolerance”?

Like many of you probably do, I have friends and acquaintances that deal with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to either let it define their lives and identities or have chosen to let God do that instead and despite what their flesh desires.  I have friends that feel that Paul is saying here that God doesn’t love them because he enumerates their sin in these verses.  And I confess that when my primary concern was a misguided stab at flawed apologetics, I found all manner of ways to try and soften what Paul says here to be more appealing to these friends.  None of the arguments held up, and I am thankful to say now that the truth of the Scriptural witness is firm in my heart.

Here is our Epiphany moment – “And such were some of you.”  While verses 9-10 list all the people that will not be able to enter the Kingdom, verse 11 reveals to us that it is only by the grace of Jesus and the work of Sanctification continuing in His people that there are any who are able to enter, if we who profess His Name truly repent and rely solely on the mercy of Our Lord.

This list also helps to forge kinship with all believers of every sinful heritage, as well as call us to have greater empathy for those who have not yet found their adoption away from the lineage of struggle.  I have never struggled with homosexual desire, but in my past, I have been a drunkard.  I have never committed adultery, but I have been greedy.  In listing out these sins, Paul does not identify some hidden hatefulness in God, rather he presents us with a means of diagnosing our diseased personalities – the disease is unrighteousness, and these are its symptoms.

It is easy for us who sit in church day to day and week to week to become detached and shocked at the depravity of the world around us, and to find some special affront in a particular deviancy of the day, which surely must disqualify such and such a person from ever receiving mercy, no matter how many confessions they make or how sorry they profess to be.  But the world has been depraved since Adam and Eve first set foot out of the garden.  Sin and unrighteousness have never been new in the post-Fall world.  The depravities of Sodom and Corinth were not alien to each other, and neither are the depravities of Corinth and your hometown.  There is no depravity in the human heart that is so bad that the heart cannot be saved – there are only hearts that are so full of depravity that they have no room for the Spirit that would save them.

Paul in this passage of his letter to the Corinthian church also reminds us that not only were these depravities not alien to the world, they were also endemic in the churchmen and women of that city, before they heard and accepted the Gospel, having their sins washed away in the waters of baptism.  Similarly, sin and unrighteousness have not been alien to us – but like the Corinthian churchgoers, we who have faithfully repented and cast our hope on the Name of Jesus Christ have been washed, sanctified, and justified in that same Name and the Spirit of Our God.

You have heard it said that “Love Wins,” and the saying is true enough.  But it is not the romantic or erotic love that wins, it is the agape love that sent Christ to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary, to teach the gospel of repentance from sins, to willingly be arrested, mocked, beaten and shamed, and finally to be hung from a tree and cursed for our sake.  It is the agape love that on the third day restored him not only to bodily life but also to divine glory.  It is the agape love that continually calls us to repentance and obedience.  It is the agape love that gently reminds us in our moments of pride that we, too, have been guilty of sin and unrighteousness and that apart from this agape love we will likewise be barred from entry into the blessed Kingdom.

This week, I encourage you to love one another.  Love those outside the Church.  Praise God for being made clean, for being set free from the bondage of sin, and pray for those still in chains.  Witness the gospel by your love of one another as well as outsiders.  As the season of Lent approaches, I additionally encourage you to examine your hearts.  If you have never confessed your sins, this is a practice that – while seemingly daunting – provides comfort and freedom to the Christian soul.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.