Readings for this week are:
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Jesus calls the first disciples.
Every now and then when I’m reading a familiar Bible story, a question will pop into my head that seems so basic I wonder why I’ve never thought of it before.
We’ve heard the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. My question is WHY FISHERMEN?
First a subsidiary question – what’s Jesus doing by the sea at all – why Capernaum?
We know Jesus was referred to as being from Nazareth, despite actually being born in Bethlehem. Nazareth is land-locked, between the sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, but in this story here he is walking by the shore. Jesus is by the sea of Galilee, in the tiny fishing village of Capernaum. We might wonder why, if Jesus had decided to move away from Nazareth, he didn’t choose a place of power like Jerusalem, or at least Bethlehem, which is in striking distance of the city.
But Jesus chooses.. nowhere – a backwater. Right from the start, Jesus signals that his message of good news is not just for the powerful and the important, but is god news for the lowest and the least and the almost forgotten places – like Capernaum. And while he’s there, he begins to call followers, starting with these fishermen.
In this unimportant place, Jesus calls unimportant people, as he calls first the smelly, the poor & the over-taxed. Under Roman occupation those engaged in fishing had to pay for ‘fishing rights’ – surrendering up to 40% of their income as tax. These fishermen know what it is to be ground down by the authorities, they have jobs which are hard and unpredictable – even on the sea of Galilee fierce storms could rage. They had jobs which needed them to go out every day for a fresh catch to make enough to survive.
Going out fishing in their boats was a daily activity involving physical nerve and early mornings. Why fishermen? Well, maybe they would be the ones who would find it easiest to understand that following Jesus wasn’t just a once-in-a lifetime choice like buying a farm, or setting up a business, but was a decision for each new day.
Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repent. This is not just a one-off decision, but a continuous call to turn in God’s direction – to walk along with Jesus & continue to make the right choices, day by day. Fishermen understand the daily rhythm of choice.
At one level this call process to the fishermen seems very simple, Jesus calls, they follow – but then what?
What follows is a kind of 3-year apprenticeship as the fishermen, and others called by Jesus, see what Jesus does and hear what he says in his ministry, and learn to follow.
Even after 3 years they are not fully initiated, fully knowledgeable, they make mistakes & have doubts, and have to be nudged in the right direction by God’s spirit.
Just because they are called by Jesus doesn’t mean they know exactly what to do. Maybe that’s another good reason for calling fishermen: however much experience they’ve got, there can be bad days, when the fish seem to just not be there.
In Luke’s account of the call of the fishermen, they are faced with exactly this situation of empty nets and wasted time. Fishermen understand persistence in the face of frustration.
It might also help us with this question of ‘why fishermen?’ if we think about how they caught their fish. These are not men who fish for leisure, with carefully selected live bait or carefully crafted fly and beautifully flicked and placed line. They have nets, they trawl and drag their catch into the boat.
Maybe Jesus calls fishermen because they’re not looking for subtlety and cleverness. When they are told to become ‘fishers of people’ they won’t get side-tracked into asking what bait they can offer people to entice them to experience God’s love.
Fishermen understand that God’s net of love catches us all whether we want to be caught or not!
Perhaps you’re unconvinced by my suggestions as to why Jesus called these fishermen first: maybe you have your own suggestions, or maybe it’s just that these were the first people to really show an interest in what Jesus had to say.
But surely if we are to follow Jesus we would do well, like the fishermen, to understand the daily decision to walk in the way of Jesus, understand the patience and persistence that it takes, and understand the unstoppability of the gathering of all people into God’s love.
We know that following Jesus is not straight-forward and easy, and we need all the understanding we can muster to help us as we walk in Christ’s way.
So it’s good that we’re not in this alone – but are privileged to be part of a community of Christians, all trying to walk God’s way. It’s good that we’re part of God’s church. We heard today another part of the Letter of Paul to Corinthians. It got off to such a good start last week ‘to God’s church at Corinth, called to be saints’…and now just 10 verses in, Paul gets to the real purpose of writing, not to tell the Corinthians how well they’re doing as followers of Christ, but to tell them off for all the dispute and division between them.
Paul is realistic about how hard it can be to follow Jesus, and he gives us a great message all who are divided in this week of prayer for Christian Unity:
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”.
We need to share our different understandings of what it means to follow Christ, if we are to grow together in faithfulness and in understanding.
Perhaps another reason for Jesus calling the fishermen is that they understand team work – they know that they need one another.
May we learn, day by day, to follow Jesus more faithfully, in company with those fishermen and in friendship with all who call themselves Christian, to the greater glory of God. Amen.