Father Nicholas Lang
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Have you ever taken a big risk to do something or go somewhere that was compelling? It is a radical call—to leave everything behind and follow someone you barely know. It may mean leaving behind the promise of a steady income. Two brothers-Peter and Andrew-are casting nets in Lake Galilee, "for they were fishermen," our text says.
That is how they made their livelihood and fed their families. Their fathers fished. Their grandfathers fished. As far back as they had memory, fishing had probably been in their family. Suddenly, some passerby, who doesn't even introduce himself, comes up to them and says, "Come after me, and I will make you fish for people."
This text was first written in Greek and Matthew, our storyteller, at once interjects the word euthus, which means "immediately," to describe their response. Immediately they drop their nets and follow him until they happen upon two other fishermen. They're not fishing but carefully mending a broken net. Two brothers called. The same word is used to describe their response, euthus "immediately." They too, drop what they're doing and follow. Four skilled anglers just up and turn their backs on everything they have ever known.
Isn’t the difficult thing about this story the fishermen's unflinching, abrupt decision to follow this man. Where’s the logical "let’s think this over." Or "Can we get back to you on that?" Or “Maybe tomorrow—if the fish aren’t biting.” We have no indication that they had counted the cost. We’re not even sure that they stopped long enough to say goodbye to family and friends. They just up and leave everything connected to their life. Period. Insanity?
I don’t think there is any reason or logic here. These guys were compelled by something they heard or saw or perceived, compelled to follow Jesus. Others would follow too—and have throughout all of time.
I’d like to focus a bit on another character in this story, the one about whom we learn very little but a name. It is Zebedee, the father of James and John. Immediately, they left the boat and followed Jesus. Note that he does not go with them. He sits stunned in the boat as he watches them leave the family business, the five of them walking single file off around the shore of Galilee.
I like to think that we have made the decision to follow Jesus as well, but let’s be honest—no matter how committed we are to doing God’s work in the world, most of us don’t just walk away from our livelihood, our family, our friends, and go off not knowing how we will live or where we are going. That’s why I like Zebedee. What made him stay behind?
Four people drop their nets and run. One of them is not quite ready to let go. Out of all the characters in this Gospel, isn’t he the easiest one with whom to relate? Don’t we sometimes feel more comfortable sitting back in the boat and mulling life over? We do our daily routine, drive our cars, go to work, feed our families, but maybe we don’t think that we are ready, or worthy, or theologically savvy for the kind of adventure Jesus calls us to.
A Georgia State Trooper pulled a car over on I-95 about 2 miles south of the Georgia/South Carolina state line. When the Trooper asked the driver why he was speeding, the guy told him that he was a juggler, and he was on his way to Savannah to do a show that night and didn't want to be late. The Trooper told the driver he was fascinated by juggling and offered that if he would do a little juggling right then and there, he wouldn't give him a ticket.
The driver had, unfortunately, sent all of his equipment ahead but the Trooper told him that he had some flares in the trunk of his patrol car and asked if he could juggle them. He agreed and the Trooper got three flares, lit them and handed them to the juggler. In the meantime, a car pulled in behind the patrol car.
A very intoxicated person got out and watched the performance briefly. Then he went over to the patrol car, opened the rear door and got in. Observing this strange behavior, the Trooper went over to the patrol car, opened the door and asked the guy what he thought he was doing. Slurring his words badly, he replied, "You might as well cart me off to jail, cause there's no way in hell I can pass that test.”
The good news for those first followers of Jesus the good news about the community and family of God’s beloved into which Laya Sonia Allen and you and I have been called is that there is no test to pass, no juggling act, nor big hoops through which to jump. God calls each and every one of us into communion with God and one another through Jesus. We too are people living in great darkness. Do we see the light—and hear the call?
And are we prepared to follow—however imperfectly—the path of a disciple of Jesus?
God wants all of us to share in the abundant life to which God calls us. But the offer does not come without some risk. My best guess is that, in his own good time, Zebedee got out of that boat and tagged along, if only out of sheer curiosity. Nor can we stay in the boat all of our life and expect to be in the place Jesus wants us to be.
Jesus called disciples, reached out, saying, “Come, follow me.” And he still does. You and I are here because we have been sought, called, summoned. We are here because God has reached in, grabbed us, put us here, enticed, wooed, allured us here. It is not an accident. It is not a coincidence.
The Good News of the Gospel is not so much about our search for God as it is an amazing account of the extraordinary lengths to which God will go to search for us.
The Great Adventure of the Church—exciting and compelling. In the words of the great G.K. Chesterton, “what by its nature, is a thing that comes to us, that chooses us…not a thing that we choose. But, at some point, we have to step out of the boat.