Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
The naming of Sundays that are not Principal or Patronal feasts has its own peculiar language. There are the Sundays OF Advent and the Sundays IN Lent. Compare those to the Sundays AFTER the Epiphany and the SEASON AFTER Pentecost. These ‘after’ times when it comes to Epiphany and Pentecost are known in the Revised Common Lectionary as, “Ordinary Time”. We use green colors in our liturgy, and often the Gospel scripture follows somewhat of a narrative of time in Jesus’ life. Calling it Ordinary Time does not mean to demean or lessen the importance of that period, but rather comes from the word Ordinal, meaning that the weeks are counted, and in an order. It’s a little play on words to grab on to that word “Ordinary” though to say that hearing about the ministry of Jesus should strike us as anything but ordinary.
Today we hear about the beginning of Christ’s ministry. We skip over what happens right after his baptism by John, when he is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and stays there for 40 days. We’ll talk more about that when it’s time for Lent. So this is after he has come out of the desert, has passed the temptations by Satan, and is beginning his adult ministry. He doesn’t start in Jerusalem; he doesn’t go to the major centers of power or population, but to a backwater place in the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was a moderately small fishing village. It’s not a center of spiritual learning or great education.
Jesus goes to this place perhaps because it fulfills prophecy, as we hear from Isaiah. There is an expectation that the Messiah will perhaps have special attention for the people living in this particular region, people probably exiled by Assyrians originally. These folks are far away from the Temple, they are distanced both physically and socially from the core of society. But the prophet Isaiah is reminding the people that no one will be left or forgotten in God’s Kingdom.
Funny enough, two years ago on this day, I was actually waking up to my first morning on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, at a pilgrims house roughly a forty-five minute walk from the ruins of Capernaum. One of the first things that struck me about this area is that it looks nothing like what I envision when I hear stories of Jesus. This is not a dry, dusty, desert sort of place. It’s full of lush green grass, plants, trees, and teeming with life. It may be a backwater place in Jesus’ time, but it is a place full of vitality and promise.
Jesus is walking around, perhaps enjoying the beauty of the seaside, maybe doing some people watching, and he comes across these two brothers, Simon and Andrew. They are working, casting nets into the water to pull in fish. It’s hard work, and who knows how many years they had been doing it. I would guess they aren’t new to the fishing trade. Jesus says to them, “Follow me” and they do. They apparently just dropped their nets right there and walked away from the day’s catch to follow Jesus. How hard is it for us to imagine someone walking up to us, saying something like, “Hey I’ve got some ideas for a new way of life and about God. Come follow me” and we would just drop what we’re doing and follow.
Next to be called are James and John. They are working for their father, mending nets in the boat that I assume is part of the family owned fishing business. Jesus says the same thing to them and up they get and leave their entire lives and their father behind. The whole point of this is that it is so incredibly absurd, so unfathomable that it testifies to the potency of the Word of God. Christ calls, and as God in flesh, these men are compelled to follow. They are not forced, they are invited, and they choose to follow.
When Jesus calls these four men, after he says, “follow me” he says something else to them as well: “I will make you fish for people”. Regardless that he is being specific to their profession, speaking to them in a way that they would understand, it’s important to notice what he doesn’t say. Jesus doesn’t say, “and we will start this movement together.” He doesn’t say, “and we will topple the Roman Empire.” He says, “I will make you fish for people.” The root of the Messiah’s message and ministry on Earth is about people. It’s about going to where they are at and gathering them together. The Kingdom of God accomplishes all those other big things, getting rid of empires and countries, sweeping across creation and bringing about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But first, we fish for people.
This passage seems to highlight two different ways of fishing that are going on, and it offers us a good analogy to think about. There are those that would stand on the shore and cast out there net from the rocks, to gather up whatever fish are closest. Then there are those that would take their boat out into the sea, to go where the fish are and cast their nets. How do we practice our fishing? Do we stay where it’s solid and safe? Do we ever go out into the open water to search for those to be gathered in? Do our nets have holes in them because they are tattered and neglected? Do we just stand still and hope that the fish swim right into our net?
In last week’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus called his disciples in a slightly different way. He asked them, “What are you looking for?” and then invited them to, “come and see.” This is both our call, as those who have chosen to follow Christ, but also our invitation to those who need the loving embrace of God. Our work is also to take a leap of faith, to be willing to leave behind those things that keep us from fishing for people. Some of those things might be physical, some of those things might be social or mental. But regardless our call is no different from the disciples of old, and the question remains the same, “What are you looking for?”
This year, two thousand twenty, marks seventy years that St. Andrew’s has, in one form or another, been the Episcopal Church in the Twin Lakes area. What do you think the next 70 years has in store for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in this place? How about the next 10 years? On this Sunday, which also is the day we have our annual meeting, it’s worth pondering Christ’s call to discipleship and our answer in this place and at this time. Jesus calls us. He calls us to go out to the people, to give them the good news. Christ proclaims that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. He asks us what we are looking for, and he offers to us, “Come and see.”