Going Fishing

I’m not really a fan of fishing.  I used to go with Jim when we were dating and first married, but I don’t really like being on the water.  I have memories of the lake my grandparents had a cottage on, and it was gooey, mucky and weedy, and scary to me.  After fishing on a few lakes that gave me the heebie jeebies, I decided that I would rather stay on shore than go on the water.  And I’d rather not fish at all. 

The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake.  It was called a Sea, even though I know of lakes that are much larger where I come from.  It also evoked memories of creation and chaos that were known in Ancient Near Eastern imagery and the Hebrew Scriptures.[1]  There was a lot of fear in getting on the sea.  It’s beautiful, but it’s scary.  I can relate to that. 

modern day fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee

Galilee is a prominent landmark in the region that Jesus travels in during his ministry. Fishermen were a big deal here. Peter and Andrew come from the town of Bethsaida, which means “house of hunting/fishing”.  They made their living by catching fish.  Until Jesus showed up.   

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  As he was going along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow him.  Mark 1:15-20

Jesus calls men who were already fishing, to take on a new kind of fishing.  They weren’t going to go out on the lake, they were going to work with people. That sounds much better to me, but then I realize that fishing Jesus’ way is pretty radical. 

Making a decision to take on a new profession usually takes some time and long conversations.  This isn’t some guys with a pole and some tackle enjoying a good time.  This is commercial business gear in a professional career.[2]  But they immediately leave their dad in the boat with the hired men for an opportunity to do a different kind of fishing! 

This kind of life is difficult.  It’s not a side-hobby. It takes energy and effort for sure!  Why would you leave the family business to go traipsing across the country with a man who isn’t approved of in society? Why would you leave your family to fend for themselves, while assisting Jesus in helping people you don’t even know? Why would you risk your reputation and your future connections that could bring you a decent income and become a fisher of people?  Why would you hang out with people that don’t have anything in common with you, eat with them, work with them, and back them up when they are in trouble?  Why would you care about people who have nothing except Jesus in common?

…because you gain the benefit of true family.  You get to continue being a son, daughter, spouse, parent, but to follow Jesus is also to be a part of a new community, where you gain new brothers and sisters and experience ties that are stronger than blood.  

That’s a good thing, because following Jesus is scarier than fishing.  Fishing with Jesus means breaking ties with former ways of life, with the status quo of participation in society, and it challenges what is certain, loosens the grip on institutions, politics and static theology.  It’s a life-long process of change, in which we must go into the chaos, and into the water, having been baptized into a new way of living, working, and community that will alter our lives forever.

William Willemon writes: “On the bank of some dark river, as we are thrust backward (into the water), onlookers will remark, “They could kill somebody like that.”  To which old John (the Baptist) might say, “Good, you’re finally catching on.”[3]  Life with Jesus is death to everything else, but it’s infinitely more beautiful and dynamic than life without Jesus.    

I might not like fishing in general, but I’ve started fishing with Jesus: his way, and am daily asking for courage to trust him when it looks like chaos, to keep going when it isn’t easy, and to revel in the relationships that are deeper and richer than I’ve ever known.   

Anyone else up for fishing? 

[1] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 58.

[2] Black, C. Clifton Mark, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011, 70. 

[3] William Willimon, ‘Repent’, found in Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent and Easter, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008, 9,10. 

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