When a company is under investigation, nobody suggests it’s a great time to invest your money. Who decides to buy an apartment in a building that’s on fire? I’m just saying, cheerfully recruiting new talent when your public spokesperson has just been arrested seems an odd strategy.
Even though John’s been thrown in jail, Jesus still blows into town saying, I’ve got great news! God’s way is unfolding right now! Change your whole way of seeing things and sign on with me! At the least, John’s arrest is terrible PR for the movement; at most, shouldn’t it give you pause? And yet, Jesus seems worried not at all. And yet, a bunch of them actually join up.
The NRSV version makes it sounds like they sign up for a job change – instead of fishing for fish they’re going to fish for people. OK, maybe not entirely the same skill set, but kind of an exciting, lateral move? Risky obviously, given John’s arrest, but a possible upgrade in adventure, at least. Think it over, talk it over with the family, find out the benefits package and maybe give Jesus an answer in a day or two? But they don’t pause to mull it over, “Immediately” they leave their nets and follow Jesus.
Being human in the world means with all of our choices and actions we are always asking, What is a good life and how do we live it? And these guys had it answered, at least for the time being. They were fishermen; fisherpeople. They had the skills, the training, the connections and the tools. It’s who they were, it’s how life worked, it’s what they knew, and how they were known in the world, they were fishermen. There was no questioning it, it was the order of things. But with one word from Jesus, and despite the bad news about John, they walk away from everything they know to follow him.
When our translation says, “I will make you fish for people,” it captures the true meaning, which is that it is for everyone, humankind, not just men. But we lose something from the original poetic contrast. Listen: As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
But by changing “fishers” to “fish for” a noun was made into a verb.
In that moment, Jesus isn’t just giving these people a different job, telling them to do something different. He’s not calling them to work for a new cause. He’s not changing their verb; he’s giving them a new identity. Jesus isn’t calling us to do stuff for him. Jesus is calling us to follow him and then he points us toward other people.
Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of persons. He’s starting where they are, in terms they understand, but inviting them into something they can barely grasp, something that doesn’t even exist in their imagination, something only discoverable by following.
Today we so often think our verb is our identity. We mix up who we are with the things we do. We think the answer to what a good life is comes from our own efforts, or we let the voices around us tell us makes a person successful or right, and we cling vigilantly to those ideas. We make it ok to despise those with opposing strategies for the same security and fulfillment as we’re chasing. And we center ourselves and our well-being, because if we don’t who will?
These first disciples did not leave their nets to follow Jesus because he offered a better salary and benefits package, or a more exciting opportunity for advancement, or because he inspired them to fight for a cause, or guilted them to work for a change, or gave them a chance to prove how good they are, or promised a sure path to safety.
I think they followed Jesus because Jesus came embodying a completely different reality altogether. One where the circumstances around you don’t dictate your identity and your security. Where—even in the midst of frightening developments and unexpected losses—you still somehow trust, and even proclaim, that God’s up to something unstoppable. Where the authority over your life is bigger than the powers of the age, and fear doesn’t determine what you’re willing to do or say, your connection to God and others does.
The time is fulfilled! Jesus declares. There are two words for time in the Greek, Chronos time means hours, minutes and days, and Kairos time, means the right, opportune time. Jesus says there is no better time. Eternity is breaking in now. Right now God’s reality is fully here. God’s way is unfolding around and in and through and despite us, in no time like the present.
Love that is eternal - unbreakable, unstoppable and neverending - has punctured our limited, ordinary, right now existence. Eternity is invading this chronos time where our bodies wear out, and our jobs disappear, where our capacities ebb and flow, and our friends move away or die, where we’re always facing unknown, and nothing ever stays constant, where we struggle to find our footing, and when we think we’ve figured life out, it’s not long before we have to start figuring it out all over again.
But, as real as all that seems, as real is it all is, as all-encompassing as our verbing along in chronos time feels, none of that is what truly, deeply defines us. That is to say, being fisherpeople-or teachers or pastors or nurses or Democrats or Republicans or colleagues or volunteers--for however long, or however well, we do that, while those things we do are part of us, they are not who we are.
When God-with-us calls us to be fishers of people, we are called to point our lives in love toward the world and its inhabitants because right now, this moment, God is here with us. Right now, we are here, alongside each other in this fleeting time-bound life.
No matter how much or little we contribute at any given time, how ready or equipped we feel or don’t, right now we are loved, and we can love. We are seen and we can see one another.
Amidst an ever-changing landscape of upheaval, we are part of something transcendent and called to something permanent. Within our chronos reality we are drawn into Kairos kind of living, the right-now-ness of God’s presence. So we are fishers of people while we teach, or nurse, or parent young children, and when those verbs disappear, we are still fishers of people; our lives still participate in the deeper reality of love. From the moment our hearts are awakened to this calling, to our last living breath and then beyond, with whatever we have to offer, in whatever ways that looks, we are here with and for each other, because we’re following the one who is with and for us.
Even though John had just been arrested, the Kingdom of God is near. Even though bad things continue to happen, even though injustice and unfairness persist in our world, suffering is real and people are frequently cruel and more often thoughtless– no amount of darkness can put out the light, nothing can stop where this is heading.
That morning Jesus came strolling onto their beach joyfully declaring, God’s reality is available right now, right in the midst of what is. Turn in a new direction, and trust in this good news.’
Follow me, Jesus said to them that day, And I will make you agents of this reality in the world.
To each of us, he says the same.