When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As 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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
In 21st century America, we are invited to join, participate, follow, watch, pledge and try out a zillion different things. I’ve been invited to parties and participated in fundraisers; I’ve followed groups on Twitter, plan to watch the Super Bowl with friends, pledged a sorority in college, and auditioned for plays in community theatre. When I’m invited, I experience a range of emotions depending on the situation. Being invited to to follow someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean too much to me, while being invited to pledge my sorority may have changed the trajectory of my life as I entered adulthood. Invitations may be easy to accept or decline, depending on the attachment, commitment level and emotional involvement. But just being invited to participate can send a jolt of excitement (ok, maybe it’s not that exciting to follow someone on Twitter – but certainly more exciting to lead an organization or join a new group of friends in a fun Friday night activity). I am quite often caught off guard if I didn’t see the invitation coming (like someone asking me to lead a group when I don’t see myself as the leader before being asked) – receiving the request can be flattering and/or daunting, causing me to do a quick assessment of my skills to help me determine if I am up for the task.
Today’s Gospel reading finds Jesus fulfilling another prophecy related to charismatic John’s imprisonment and the unspoken freedom it gives Jesus to move to Galilee and really increase his presence as a teacher without the confusion of followers choosing between John and Jesus. But he knows he can’t do this without a long lasting group of followers. Andrew, Peter, James and John were most likely hard working fishermen who had little to no social standing in the community. They caught fish for a living; they didn’t run a bank, weren’t CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, nor were they lawyers or doctors. Their jobs were simple yet powerful – go out and get fish so people will eat. The parallel between the jobs of fishermen and the jobs of apostles can be drawn simply: you know how to fish, now let’s fish for people.
I have often wondered over the years, as this Gospel reading comes around, about how I would have likely reacted at the invitation to leave my livelihood and family to go and do some pretty crazy things without the security of my current life. Sadly, I always reach the same conclusion – I’m not very confident that my answer would have been a resounding yes. There is much evidence in my current life of resisting the call to serve, with most of those invitations not EVEN requiring me to give up much of anything. I am currently wrestling pretty mightily with a very radical and transformational call to ministry and if that is any indication, leaving my nets on the side of the Sea of Galilee seems like it may have been a pretty unlikely outcome.
So here is the great news…Jesus doesn’t really tap us on the shoulder and ask us to walk away from everything to do. Whew!!!!! His invitation is comprised of just asking us to follow him. Seems simple, right? Simple – yes. Easy to do – not so much. If you are anything like me, you wake up with great intentions for the way your day will go, or you go to bed on New Year’s Eve with a year’s worth of new commitments for bettering yourself, only to find yourself forgetting all about your commitments or well intentioned to-do lists. It’s hard to keep our focus on Christ and loving each other when we have to run to the grocery store on the way to the office to get the snacks for the meeting we will be hurrying to right after work and before we head home to fold laundry and make lunches for the next day (makes fishing on the Sea of Galilee seem quite simple after all!).
But following Jesus gives all those other things the appropriate purpose and perspective. Committing to adding purposeful study, prayer and actions that bear witness to our relationship with Christ can start with small habits in the morning when you first wake up, at the end of the day when you are ready to rest or all throughout the day mixed in with your other to-do list items. It’s somewhat surprising how quickly those “habits” become integrated in our lives when we do them with a purpose.
Following Christ may mean a drastic change in your lifestyle and commitments. Or it may mean adding in special time at the foot of the Cross each day. Whatever it means for you, the first step is accepting the invitation to accept that God has chosen and loves each and every one of us. The next steps are completely in your court.
The love of our Father is greater than we can imagine and our invitation to follow him sometimes falls on deaf ears. Help us to see you in the world, find time to spend with your in prayer, and to live our lives as followers of you. You are our All in All. AMEN.
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.
The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.
So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.
The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.
Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.