3rd Sunday after The Epiphany

January 22, 2017


Following and fishing … not sucking up and scalping

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:12-25 ESV)

I think it is a fine line between following a person faithfully and being ensnared by someone; between a relationship that is close and helpful and a relationship that is close and harmful. In our post modern world of each of us is entitled to our own views and if I’m not bothering you, then don’t bother me, we still nevertheless make judgements about what we see around us but we do not have easy ways today to discuss what we see. To claim an exclusive and absolute allegiance is both arrogant and intolerant in today’s climate.

Jesus was therefore not politically correct when he said simply, “Come, follow me”. This was not just a matter of seeing where he was going but of specifically going with Jesus because he was on the right track; indeed, he is the right track for he is known for exclusive claims – “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Later he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) as if he himself could relieve all burdens. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus made personal exclusive claims about himself and clear expectations of the behaviour of his followers. Jesus’ claims simply pointed to the clear conclusion that he is God.

His call is not just for a passive following, like a dog trained to walk quietly at the heel. Jesus also talked about sending out, going – which seems to mix the images somewhat until one remembers that Jesus promised to be with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) – and in our text, to fishermen he described their lives as still fishing – no longer for fish – now for people, for more people to follow Jesus.

Just think about this at its face value and, to my way of thinking, the alarm bells are ringing. It appears that what we have here is ensnaring; pressure; threats if there is non compliance; there is a spiritual pyramid organisation where followers get more followers; obedience; there is arrogance and conceit around the leader – what sort of person claims to be God? These are some of the characteristics of groups – cults in the main – that I warned students against in Australia! In fact, if you were to do a

word study of fishing for people or capturing people in the Bible, you will discover that the other occurrences are not desirable outcomes for people – you don’t want to be caught hook, line, and sinker – you don’t want to be captured. So what is different about this situation?

Is there any evidence we can use to refute the charge that Jesus’ claim of allegiance is narrow minded and harmful to people both individually and collectively?

Of course that is exactly what Matthew and the other gospel writers do – provide accounts of Jesus’ life and death, his words and deeds – which no one is able to disprove now or could back when they were written. Matthew points out that Jesus has come to save his people from their sins as Immanuel (God with us) and where the people of Israel felt that they were God’s exclusive people, Matthew points out through the prophets he lists in the first four chapters that Jesus has come for all people – Jews and Gentiles, Magi and Jerusalem court officials. Jesus lives in Galilee which disqualifies him in some people’s eyes of being the Messiah – yet seems to shine light into darkness, bring life into dead situations wherever he goes – again for both Jew and Gentile. His message is straight forward, “Repent, for the kingdom is near” – and he walking in front of them, near to them, in their midst as it were and his teaching is with authority and healing marks the spot where God is breaking into the world of decay and disease and death.

There is no evidence of Jesus abusing the relationship he creates with people; using people for his own ends. What we always see of Jesus, however, is the reverse – he is among us as one who serves. This is seen with blinding clarity as Jesus hangs on the cross – the innocent dying in place of the guilty – serving even those who nailed him by including them and us all in his prayer of forgiveness. His death could not even stop Jesus serving people for his defeat of death’s power to dominate is for our benefit and the accounts of his resurrection encounters continue his care and service of people. We are here in 2017 at church in worship precisely because Jesus washes, forgives, speaks, listens, feeds, and blesses us – the divine service continues!

And this truth – hidden from senses – believed – is the reason that there are followers of Jesus still today whose lives might also be summarised as following Jesus as he makes them fishers of men and women. We live with our minds switched on – questioning, learning, growing, struggling, rejoicing – not afraid of the world or religious debate – recognising that we might not have all the answers to a question or charge or accusation but that we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And others can too. Following and fishing are the ways Jesus described what being with him is all about. Note that I didn’t say sucking up and scalping! The centre here is love, grace, mercy, forgiveness – such things that stagger us – for me?! – “Yes”, says Jesus, “for you” and so we live and want others to know this Jesus too.


Bible References

  • Matthew 4:12 - 25