Musical Prelude and Service.

Matthew 4:12-23
In 1986 two brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, who were fishermen by trade, but also amateur archaeologists, working on the Sea of Galilee, discovered the remains of an ancient fishing boat. It was eventually determined the boat dated to the first century CE. So, from around the time that Jesus lived. It is now known as the Galilee Boat.
There is no historical evidence tying this boat directly to Jesus, but it does give us a glimpse at what Jesus would have ridden in at times, and what Simon and Andrew were fishing in when Jesus approached them and convinced the two brothers to join him and learn from him.
You see, the questions around how these two brothers and two more a little further on down the shore, James and John, made the decision to abandon their nets and their trade to follow Jesus can be numerous. How could they choose to leave their families wondering where their living would come from? What about the social security for them and their families? How could they leave so many people with doubts about their future and their safety?
Yes, let’s presume Jesus is a compelling presence. Let’s presume the spirit is at work and moving these brothers to do something that on the surface seems incredibly reckless. But the connection to the sea; the sense of responsibility to family and community would be incredibly strong. To just drop those nets, abandon their boats, and follow this rabbi walking along the seashore is mystifying.
Which brings me back to the boat.
One of the things it was noted about the boat was that it was made up of many different types of wood. As you can imagine, it is well studied. Archeologists say it contains at least seven different types of wood. Much of it is wood scavenged from other boats. One can only speculate on the reason for this. Why not use only one source of wood? Well, one can consider a shortage of wood as one explanation. It could also be the result of a great many repairs using whatever is at hand to keep the boat afloat.
Whichever way you look at this though, at the time Jesus walked along the Galilee and Simon and Andrew were repairing their nets, fishing was not really a stable and secure way to earn a living, unless you were part of the elite.
In his book God and Empire, John Dominic Crossan notes that Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Pereia, shortly after the death of Augustus Caesar in 14 CE, built a new capital on the shores of Galilee and named it Tiberius in honour of the new emperor. He imposed a new policy of commercialization aimed at greater Romanization of the population. This would also bring greater revenue from the Galilee fishery, through taxation of the peasant fishermen and consolidating much of the fishing to a few owners or consortiums of fishing families.
Family fishers such as Zebedee and his sons would struggle with growing taxes, increased competition for fishing locations. They were paid by a consortium that set prices, and with a growing number of fishing boats, fish were increasingly scarce.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to create a vision in which Simon and Peter; James and John don’t see much of a future doing what their families have done for generations. In this context, perhaps it makes sense that their anger at the status quo and the desire for a new future draws them to follow a preacher who says something new is happening.
Do Simon and Andrew see themselves as important figures in a movement that will change the world? I don’t see that being the case. I think they are looking for something new and Jesus offers them a sense of something new. I wonder if they are trying to make sense of their world; a world in turmoil where poverty and servitude to a foreign empire and to a corrupt puppet king is demanded?
And, I am sure, questions about where the God they worshipped could be found were rampant.
Follow me and I will make you fishers of people. What does that mean? What is Jesus telling these brothers? Follow me and I will teach you how to draw more people to this movement? To help bring more people to what Jesus is teaching?
Jesus draws his first followers from those who are amongst the poorest of the poor. He recruits from those who have no voice in their society and have no power to change the world around them. No one is going to pay attention to what a couple of down on their luck, impoverished fishermen have to say.
And yet, echoing what I talked about last week, Jesus looks upon these men and sees them more clearly than they see themselves. Jesus recognizes who God has made them to be. He sees their strength and their dedication. He sees their courage and their compassion and calls them to do something else. Their years of time spent in a small boat on a large lake, hauling nets full of fish has toughened them. It has strengthened them. They have the patience and courage of people who have endured long hours adrift amongst the waves of the Galilee waiting for a good catch.
They are fully aware of the injustice of the system of government and commercialization that has centralized power and wealth in the hands of a few and left so many powerless and penniless.
I cannot imagine Simon and Andrew looked at Jesus and thought, yes, this man will help us get our names in the history books. But they heard the call to follow him and do something different; something new, and said yes.
Yes, I am ready to learn. Yes, I am ready to go a new direction. Yes, I am ready to call for a change and yes, I am ready to see God at work around me in new ways.
As we make our way through the season of Epiphany, we find ourselves confronted by a number of different stories of call. Calls to take up a new cause or to make a change in how we live our lives. Calls to begin a new project.
That can be and is usually a challenge. It is not always the case, but often those who are struck by such a call realize that their lives need a change. That can be for a number of reasons. Or they look at their world and can no longer ignore the ways in which it is broken. They can no longer turn a blind eye to the injustice that is harming so many people around them.
In any case, sometimes we find ourselves either as individuals or as a community awakened to the need for a change. We may question if we are prepared or equipped with the strength or the skills for such a change in direction. These are reasonable questions. But over and over and over in scripture, we read that God calls people regardless of how inadequate they may appear to be, how inadequate they see themselves as being. God sees them differently.
I want to be careful here. This is not me standing here today insisting the congregation engage in some mass project of reflection. That’s not how an epiphany works. But, when we hear a voice inviting us into something new that comes our way, I think we need to be ready to take it seriously.
And we need to be ready to say yes; put down our nets and walk away from the patchy old boat that served us so well for so long.

 

 

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