I’ve always found the story of Jesus’ calling his fishermen disciples a little “cult-ish.”
You just heard it–
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.
It’s a little too reminiscent of the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” A little too suggestive of the need for an intervention to save a child from a cult.
But surely it’s a distilled version of what actually happened. Melissa Bane Sevier has a wonderful fantasy on what might have preceded this call. She imagines Zebedee looking at the backs of his sons as they follow Jesus down the beach and wondering how he’s going to tell his wife that they’ve gone. She tells the story of a typical family business, this fishing operation that Zebedee had inherited from his own father and hoped someday to pass down to his sons; the two boys, James and John, resisting being locked into that future, doing the usual grousing that teenagers and young men (and women) are apt to do, wishing that their father wouldn’t take some of the left-over fish after the day’s sales and drop them off at the shacks and small fires of the widows and poor families who lived along the way home, complaining and bickering as they mended the nets.
But then the boys, now young men, started hanging out with their school chum Jesus, who seemed to have matured faster than James and John. Sevier imagines–“Jesus often stops and talks with Zebedee at the end of the day and sometimes tries to help a little with the net mending. Jesus is terrible at mending. Even so, Zebedee continues to try to teach him, just to hear Jesus talk while they work together. He loves the things Jesus says about God. He loves what he says about justice for the poor.” [Contemplative Viewfinder, 1/16/17]
As the young men spend more and more time with Jesus, Zebedee notices that they seem to be growing kinder, less self-absorbed. He even notices that James is saving aside some of the widows’ favorite fish to slip to them on the way home.
And then one day, Jesus comes by and says, “Today’s the day. Come and follow me.” And of course they go–not without saying good-bye, but with no tears. And Zebedee is left with the other workers and his nets. He knows that he can’t leave. Not only is he too old for traipsing around the countryside, but who would take care of his wife and daughters and other sons? Who would catch the fish, let alone provide food for the widows and the poor? “Sometimes we are left behind for a purpose,” Sevier suggests.
President Obama, in his farewell address, issued a call to all of us to take up the work of citizenship. And President Trump, in his inaugural address, said that power wasn’t being transferred from one administration to the next, or one political party to another, but rather to the people. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It depends on the involvement and participation of its citizens for its very existence, to vote, to call our representatives to account, to support or protest as our conscience calls us. As my daughter wrote on her Facebook page about why she was participating in yesterday’s Women’s March–“because fear, despair, and apathy are the enemies, not people who are different; because our system of government requires engaged participation, because what we do as individuals affects our community, our country, and our planet.”
Being followers of Jesus requires no less–and probably more–participation, nothing less than our whole, unique selves, to discover just what it is that we were given so that we can be of service to the greater good, to live out our calling. The word “vocation” or calling often implies some grand, clear profession or role–like being a teacher, or doctor, or lawyer, a parent, an artist, a priest or minister or rabbi. And the “voice” who calls us is implied. I know that we talk about “sense of call” when we interview members in discernment for the ministry. Who told you you should be a pastor? Did you hear the words, “Follow me, and I will teach you how to fish for people”? The voice of my “calling” to ministry sounded more like a door slamming shut in front of me and another door opening behind me or to the side.
But what if our call is much more subtle? What if it’s less about what we should do and more about who we are?
As almost always, I find the words of story-teller and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes to be wise and inspiring. “You could be the water,” she writes in a poem, called “The Rainmaker: You Could Be the Water”–1. You could be the water…
By the scent of water alone,
the withered vine comes back to life,
wherever the land is dry and hard,
you could be the water;
or you could be the iron blade
disking the earth open;
or you could be the acequia,
the mother ditch, carrying the water
from the river to the fields
to grow the flowers for the farmers;
or you could be the honest engineer
mapping the dams
that must be taken down,
and those dams which could remain to serve
the venerable all,
instead of only the very few.
You could be the battered vessel
for carrying the water by hand;
or you could be the one
who stores the water.
You could be the one who
protects the water,
or the one who blesses it,
or the one who pours it.
Or you could be the tired ground
that receives it;
or you could be the scorched seed
that drinks it;
or you could be the vine—
in all your wild audacity …
©2000,2016, poem “The Rainmaker: You Could Be The Water,” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
How many ways there are to follow Jesus! Not only to drop everything and leave family behind to travel the countryside preaching and healing, but also to stay behind, to do your own work faithfully and full of love, to provide food for the people, or to deliver it, or to prepare it, or to make the place where nourishment is offered more beautiful. You could listen to people, you could remind them that they are Beloved. You could write legislation that structures our community more justly. You could thank or encourage a legislator. You could help clean up a stream or a river. You could pray. You could write songs or sing songs of praise or lament or justice. You could hold a child, or play with a child, or listen to a teen-ager. You could visit a mosque, or a synagogue and make new friends. You could sit quietly with someone who has lost a loved one, or give a foot massage to someone who’s depressed.
“Walk with me and work with me,” Jesus says in Peterson’s translation. “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I’ll show you how to recover your life.” You could be the living water…or the ditch…or the vessel…or the tired ground…or the one who protects the water, the one who blesses it… The only option you don’t have is to do or be nothing.
The power of the story of the disciples’ dropping everything to follow Jesus is not their immediate, almost ruthless leaving of family and responsibilities. It is that we must indeed leave behind all that is not our way of serving the true God–we must leave behind all the other gods we spend our lives serving–money, success, possessions, family work, if they have become our gods. We must leave behind all those other false selves that are not our true self–let go of trying to be someone you’re not. “Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde said, “Everyone else is already taken.” The great Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day wrote, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
We pray each Sunday–perhaps each day–for God’s kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven. We are called to be part of making it a reality, of doing the “real work of Christmas,” as our anthem this morning sang about. It’s big enough for each one of us to take a little piece. In fact, each of us is essential. You could be the water, or who knows what else? “Come, follow me,” Jesus said. There are an infinite number of ways to do that. Pick one. Find one. Be that one.
Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark