Do you remember singing the Sunday school song “I will make you fishers of men if you follow me”? Anyone prepared to sing a verse? No? That’s ok. Has anyone really thought about the song and its relationship to the passage it refers to?
Today’s gospel verse takes us into a key moment in the life of Jesus and those who first served with him. Jesus has relocated his life to Capernaum. We are not sure when he went there, just that it was after John the Baptist was arrested. We do not know how long he had been there, just that he had been there long enough to make a home there.
Understanding this is not an impulse action on the top of the baptism, the period in the desert or John’s arrest putting this story into the realm of an ordinary every day activity is valuable. He simply didn’t turn the page of his “This Is Your Life’ script and read, “John’s arrested, go to Capernaum and recruit some disciples.” It happened in the midst of an ordinary life in a small village of around 1000 people on 25 acres. It happened to people known to each other, recognised as part of the ongoing life of a small fishing village.
It happened as Jesus did what seems to have been a regular activity for him – “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee”. It seems walking by the Sea of Galilee was not an unusual activity for Jesus. It probably was something he did as a daily routine, whether for exercise, as a spiritual practice or just to get some quiet while he took in the scenery and the people he lived amongst. It does appear he was fully present to the natural and human environment, observing people and nature to inform his practice, memory and understanding of others and people.
It is not hard to imagine Peter and Andrew were known to him or he had, at least, made a careful study of these two men as they went about their fishing business. In a village of 1000, there would have been few strangers and as he made his home there we can assume they visited the same space for prayer and teaching, passed each other in the centre of town and had mutual friends.
It seems that their contact had been sufficient for mutual respect and positive relationships. The encounter on the side of the lake is not one of negotiation or a dialogue in which one had to put their case to the other nor was it unexpected and therefore an instantaneous response. It was a simple ask receiving an eager yes. One can’t help thinking this conversation had a backstory and the invite was not unexpected. And neither was the response. Jesus, Peter and Andrews’ reputation and knowledge of each other ensured both the ask and the answer were positive.
Jesus gives the invitation to people who were going about their life. None of the four disciples in this story sought Jesus out or asked to go with him. They did not approach Jesus openly or seek to be his disciples. He broke into their ordinary lives and they responded. While they did not seek the call they responded based on their relationship with Jesus forged in the everyday life of the village.
There is an insight here for us. We can be so keen to have a spiritual experience, to experience a mystical event or to be a spiritual person that we miss the value of simply getting on with life open to the possibility of encountering God. God breaks into our lives when we are deemed ready, and not before. God comes to us and opens up our lives when we are working quietly on being human, ignoring our pretensions and ambitions to be something else. God sets us for his work when we are already fully occupied with being present as ourselves with others. It is the faithfulness to our humanity God enhances through an encounter with Jesus.
It is interesting only two of the four who are called are actually identified as ones who will be made fishers of people. Andrew and Peter, not James and John, receive that call. It is not a universal call for all. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” is personal and directed, it is contextual and prophetic, and it is their call and their call only.
We can so often appropriate for ourselves the lives of others and forget the truth that their life is their life and our life is our life and that is the way it is. We look at others success, others wealth, others experiences and become jealous, desiring to share in a life like theirs. For Peter and Andrew they receive a specific call and promise and would be held accountable for that throughout their lives. It was specific to them. It is not for James and John, and it is not necessarily for us.
Now this may sound counter to what we have been taught yet it is important. We are all tasked with being open to the breaking in of God as we journey to wholeness, we are not all tasked to fish for people. Interestingly this is the only positive use of this idea in the Old and New Testaments. Elsewhere it refers to capturing others who oppose you or are your enemies.
This returns us to a consistent thought throughout humanity’s engagement with God: our relationship with God is not static but ever evolving and renewing just as Gods relationship with all creation is ever evolving and ever new. In this way it is mystical or based on a real experience of the Christ both specific (it is our experience personally) and universal (it is the experience of and for all people).
Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew differs in specifics but remains in its essence same as that of Jesus’ call to James and John and to us: to follow the way into wholeness and justice for the whole world. The specifics are relevant to the individuals involved and will go on to structure and influence the direction ones life takes.
We are not all called to be fishers of people, and if we are, not in the same way as others. We live out our life in this world according to the circumstances, opportunities and understanding specifically ours. Jesus calls us to follow his way: life giving, life affirming and life releasing all the way to the cross in willing self-sacrifice.
Jesus call to these four men affirms the material world and our experience of it. A man on his daily walk offers an invitation to men going about their daily business in a small insignificant village where they shared community life and had made their home. This affirmation of the created world by one incarnate and ordinary should give us pause to contemplate the incredible nature and potentiality of our engagement with the everyday.
It is pregnant, full of life and hope. Let us be open to the voices we hear and respond to the call to be alive with wholeness and love in the midst of each noisy moment.