One of the many reasons I’m not a Biblical literalist is that it’s just too much work. It’s too much work trying to reconcile things stated in different parts of the bible that are clearly contradictory. Take the call of Jesus’ disciples, for example.
Last week we read John’s version. There John the Baptist was walking along with a couple of his disciples when Jesus walked by. “Behold the Lamb of God,” John said to them, and the next day, when those same disciples saw Jesus again, Jesus asked them what they were looking for. When they answered by asking where he lived, Jesus said to them, “Come and see.” So they went and became Jesus’ disciples.
Today, in Matthew’s version of the call story, John the Baptist has been arrested while Jesus was in the wilderness, being tested by Satan. When Jesus emerges from the wilderness and hears about John, he leaves his home in Nazareth and heads to Capernaum, by the sea. There he sees two sets of brothers–Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Peter and Andrew are casting their nets into the sea, James and John are mending their nets in the boat with their father. Jesus says to both sets of brothers–“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people…or fishers of people.” And “immediately,” Matthew says, “they left their nets and followed him.”
This always strikes me as a scene from “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Really? Just like that, they dropped their nets, left their poor old father and their boats, and followed Jesus? People who know a lot more than I about that culture suggest that it was not uncommon for someone who has made known their grievance–in this case, the oppression of the Roman occupations and its effect on the Palestinian fishing business–to walk around and solicit folks to join in the cause. This could have been the winter season, these commentators suggest, when there was a lull in the fishing business, and so now was the time for these independent businessmen to join with neighbors for the greater good. Jesus would not have been an unknown to them, and particularly now with John the Baptist arrested, his disciple Jesus would have taken up his cause. Could be, if you’re looking for a rational, logical explanation for this scene by the seaside, although the gospels usually aren’t too interested in offering rational, logical explanations.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” Jesus began preaching after his time in the wilderness. That’s what John had preached. John’s baptism had been for the forgiveness of sins – a way of washing your past clean before re-orienting your life [which is what “repent” means]. Jesus also preached repentance, but he seemed more interested in what was worth re-orienting your life to. What is clear in all the gospels is that he not only proclaimed the good news of that kingdom or community but also demonstrated what the kingdom of God was like, as he healed “every disease and every sickness.” The kingdom of God is how God wants us to live together. The kingdom of God is about justice, about inclusion, about sharing food, about healing and wholeness. “And great crowds followed him,” Matthew says.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people,” Jesus said. It was a call to fishermen, who knew how to fish. I imagine that if it had been the story of the call of Lydia, for example–the woman whom Paul tells us about who was a seller of purple cloth–that Jesus might have said, “Follow me, and I will make you weave people together.”
“I will make you fishers of people.” We may be a little appalled by that image, if we think of fishing as hooking people and reeling them in. We’ve heard of too many unscrupulous types who do that. But remember that Peter and Andrew and James and John used nets. They cast their nets upon the sea and then drew in everything within those nets–fish and old shoes and sea weed alike. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of people…I’ll show you how to gather people together…” but in this gathering that Jesus has in mind, it’s less of a coralling in against their will and more of a connecting, an introduction to one another and a way of life that is life-giving; a field of energy, if you will, a “field of compassion,” as author Judy Cannatto put it in her book of the same name.
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” I will help you draw people together to discover their profound unity or oneness in the midst of all their diversity. To the quantum physicist, Jesus might have said, “Follow me, and I will make you a strange attractor.” I think that’s my favorite variation or riff on this theme. “Follow me and I will make you a strange attractor.” What is that, you may ask? In chaos theory, the most chaotic of systems are found to have a deep internal order and never go beyond certain boundaries. They are held within what is called a strange attractor. (Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science, p. 21)
Now, I know some of you think that our new “structure,” if you can call it that, is utter chaos. Who’s going to be responsible for what? Is anything going to get accomplished? How do I know who to talk to about anything? I urge you to give quantum physics the benefit of the doubt. Margaret Wheatley in her book Leadership and the New Science suggests that it is the governing vision of an organization that sets up the field within which the organization can move and evolve and spin out and organize itself. If the Way of Jesus is our governing vision–the way of compassion, of hospitality, of affirming the divine essence of every person, the way of justice and standing alongside those in need–if we keep ourselves within the field of “following Jesus,” then perhaps each one of us might become “strange attractors” [OR, fishers of people, if you prefer]. Each one of us might become so energized by this vision, filled with the Light and Love of God, if you will, that right in the middle of our ordinary lives–at school, at Price Chopper or Hannaford’s, at work, at Home Depot, at home, while we’re traveling, while we’re coaching or skiing the trails at Prospect–we will be “strange attractors.” People will wonder what it is about us that seems so alive, so open, so compassionate. If they should ask us, my guess is few of us will begin talking about Jesus, but we might find a way that has integrity for us. We might find a way to talk about God, however we think about or experience God. We might even mention Second Congregational Church and use Jesus’ line from the gospel of John–“Come and see.”
That vision and strange attraction are much more powerful and effective than any structure or flow chart we can diagram on paper, though we do know that institutions and organizations are essential for passing along traditions and information. It’s just that they tend to become ends in themselves, instead of means to an end.
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of people,” Jesus said, “and immediately they left their nets and followed him…and Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching …and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Good news, wisdom, healing, and sense of worth and belonging. Let us become such fishers of people and strange attractors to Real Life. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark