A Compelling Calling

Scriptures: Matthew 5:1-12

Let us pray:

Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Open our ears that we may hear your voice. Turn our lostness into belonging, our wandering into purpose, our words into listening and our hurts into healing. Reveal not only your Word to us, but your very self, that your Holy Spirit might nourish our souls anew. Amen.

Have you been fishing lately? Or, I suppose, with just a little imagination, ice fishing might be possible. I recall the first time I ran across a little hut out on the frozen lake in Michigan at Camp Henry and wondered, “what in the world is this?” So of course I went to investigate. As I approached and heard conversation, I then remembered descriptions from some of my books of yore and put two and two together. You know, wherever two or more are gathered, there’s bound to be a fisherman. When, in friendly communities, you come across such a fishing hut on the ice and stick your head in, there’s about a 50% chance you’ll be invited in for the other two plus two lesson: Whenever two or more ice fishermen are gathered, there’s bound to be a fifth.

Today’s Gospel reading from the Book of Matthew is often thought of as the launching place, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. Or perhaps I should say, his first cast? However you want to view it metaphorically, here’s what happens:

“Matthew describes Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and calling the first four of his disciples. All fishermen, he called them to follow him. Matthew says they immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

As readers, we are struck by this idea that immediately they left what they were doing. It is as if they were compelled to follow Jesus and to obey him, almost as if they had been waiting all their lives to hear this voice, to be issued this call, so that when it came, they dropped what they were doing.”[1]

Believe it or not, I had never thought of it that way before. Can you imagine being able to discern the voice of God instantly the moment it is spoken to you? Being raised so that not only can you recognize God’s voice at first hearing, but move immediately to action with no thought of looking back?

With this new perspective of what it may have been like for Simon, and Andrew – even more for the younger James and John, still working the boat with their father Zebedee – the thought occurred to me: what must it have been like for Zebedee? Certainly he heard and recognized the same voice, yet had not been called to come and follow! On one hand, that deeply disturbs me. On the other, perhaps that is my first step toward what it may be like to learn the wisdom of a parent: knowing when it is time to let your children go freely of their own will to fulfill their destiny as only foreseen by the Master. Bearing all of that in mind, let’s hear the story again:

18As he walked 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. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” (Mt. 4:18-22)

I echo the words of Rodger Nishioka when he writes:

“I wish the task of discernment was that easy. In one sense, it may be; but in another sense, it is so complicated. It is complicated because it seems that the voices—many of whom are claiming to be God’s voice—are so numerous these days. This is why the last verse in today’s reading is so important. The reading for the day does not end with disciples following Jesus. The reading ends by reminding us what Jesus sets about doing, as these four and others become his disciples. Jesus goes throughout Galilee, “teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people”[2] (v. 23).

That bears a bit more ruminating, doesn’t it? Here are four (at least) fishermen who know who and what they are, know what to do and how to go about it. They are on a path set down from their youth, with a set of skills in hand they have learned to make them good at what they do. They are fishermen, therefore they fish.

In a recent interview podcast between Rob Bell and John Phillip Newell, Rob recounts the analogy of walking along a path, knowing the way you are to go; but then unintentionally wandering from the path. All of a sudden when you realize you have wandered from the path, you cry out, turning back and thanking God that you have realized it in time to turn around, and find again the path upon which to set your feet.

The Hebrew term for this is T’Shuva, to “turn back” or “turn around.”[3] The Greek term for this is Metanoia. Our English Bible translates Metanoia in today’s text to read “Repent,” and goes on to record, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Would it change your understanding of this basic premise for the entirety of Jesus’ message and ministry if you changed back to the meaning of the original languages? Listen again to what Jesus says anew: “Metanoia, Turn around, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”

That means something profoundly different to me. It doesn’t condemn me or tell me I am on the wrong track per say, as if I am filled with sin – which is a typical western Christian perspective on the word “repent.” Instead, this calling arrests me in my forward motion, halts my personal agenda and gives me a new direction – directly from the Master’s lips.

Beyond this, there is something even more of note about today’s passage. Jesus is not teaching about how to go to heaven, a common misinterpretation of Matthew’s language about the “kingdom of heaven,” rather, Jesus is, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (author’s emphasis) Jesus is about, as NT Wright notes, “God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’”[4] God’s call through Jesus is not to fish for a heavenly ladder but to fish for people – that means here on earth, in this life we live in right now. That IS profoundly different, isn’t it? I would like to end with another quote from Rodger Nishioka:

“To discern whether the voice we are hearing is truly the voice of God, we have to examine the person behind the voice, to see if the person is consistent with the God who is revealed to us in Scripture. … It is our responsibility, in the midst of the many voices calling us, to know the person of God so well that we are able to discern what voices are consistent with the God who created us in God’s own image, redeemed us through God’s only Son, and sustains us by God’s Spirit in and through the body of Christ.”[5]

In that, we have our work cut out for us. Let us pray:

O Most Holy, you who sojourned among us for a time, guide us in our wandering ways that we might set our feet in your path and see you, the Christ, in the faces of each and every other. Guide us as we take that which we know we know and craft it for offering divine hospitality to all whom we meet in need; for indeed, such is the nature of our calling here in your heavenly kingdom. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen? May it be so.

[1] Nishioka, Rodger Y. Feasting on the Word—Year A (Feasting-Year A); David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.0

[2] Nishioka, Rodger Y. Feasting on the Word—Year A (Feasting-Year A); David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.0

[3] Podcast interview on January 2, 2017 with Rob Bell, John Philip Newell: https://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-133-live-robcast-with-john-philip-newell/

[4] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 18. As quoted by Greg Garrett in . Feasting on the Word—Year A (Feasting-Year A); David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.0

[5] Nishioka, Rodger Y. Feasting on the Word—Year A (Feasting-Year A); David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

What does Jesus mean when he calls his follower to be “fishers of people”? What must I leave behind to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord Jesus, you call me to be a faithful disciple. Enable me to hear your voice above the distractions of this day, to see each challenge as an opportunity for faithful witness, and to offer myself in obedient service in all that I do. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Your face, O Lord, have I sought this day and your beauty have I beheld. I have seen you in the face of the stranger, and beheld your beauty in creation. Thank you, and keep me aware. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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