January 26, 2020
Scriptures: Mark 1:14-20
Jesus called…and ‘they left their nets’. And I think it is important to note that our passage does not say, that they just, ‘Left them there at the side of Lake Galilee’, but rather that, ‘They left them immediately’! They seemed to have just stood up from the tasks before them, and walked off following after Jesus. In fact, in Mark’s account we have very little detail surrounding this strange encounter between Jesus and the first disciples he called. We don’t know if they all knew each other, however our reading last week from John’s gospel seems to indicate that they at least knew of Jesus, having heard John the Baptist give witness to who this man truly was. But we also do not know if they were just happy to be offered a change of pace, as fishing was definitely a hard way to make a living.
We do know however, that they left livelihood and family behind as our passage tells us that James and John, the sons of Zebedee left their father still tending to the family nets. And in truth, we do not have much more from Mark, other than the seemingly astounding fact that these four young men heard Jesus call to them, and left everything else behind, setting off on a course that would change their lives as well as the course of human history forever.
Fishing nets…large, bundles of knotted ropes mixed in with wooden buoys meant to be hurled out across the water to sink down, floating vertically from the surface buoys…hanging there for a spell before being hauled in from both the top and bottom, intending to catch any fish who may have wandered in between the boat and the net. Heavy, bulky nets, difficult, often frustrating work, on occasion with nothing at all to show for a full day’s work!
Which is perhaps not a bad metaphor for some of the things our own lives become tangled up within. Perhaps heavy, bulky nets are an apt symbol for any ‘thing’ or collection of ‘things’ which holds us back from being able to hear the Spirit’s call and to also, ‘immediately begin to follow after’, this one who calls to us. This notion of ‘nets’, as things we may have in our lives, or as something that may represent obligations that may have a hold on our time or on our allegiance is worthy of careful consideration.
For it really was no different for the four young men in our passage today than it is for us. They too had obligations, both to themselves, to their families, and to others around them…all of which they seemingly walked away from. They made a very radical choice to live their lives in a wholly new and different way at the moment they heard Jesus call out to them.
And I wonder how that same choice might look today…what might a life given over in full surrender in the pursuit of God’s will look like in our time? We are surely familiar with those in the faith who have chosen to live a religious life, in a monastery or convent. But I am thinking more about how we, as those who answer the call from our Lord, might appear to those around us, having done so. Is it possible to make a radical shift towards the pursuit of God’s will without necessarily changing the way you look on the outside? Is it possible to become more fully engaged in a deep faith walk and still walk in ways much as we have before? In other words, is it possible to remain within our present life circumstances and still find the freedom to respond in meaningful and life-affirming ways to the call of our Lord…to answer that call fully and completely from within the life and lifestyle we each now live, with all that we have and all that we are still pretty much ours to use and distribute? Maybe…however, I think, not without a faith-based and faithful re-orientation of how we view all that our own ‘nets’ may currently be filled with.
It may be possible to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually disentangle ourselves from the nets of our possessions, to at least find some distance between them and ourselves. And if we are able to do that, then that may allow us the objectivity or distance to view them as resources apart from ourselves and therefore importantly, not as part of our self-definition. This willingness and/or ability to untangle our lives, to separate out what we have, from who we truly are is one of those qualities that truly can make our lives a ‘light’ for others and a visible ‘witness’ to the world. In other words, we all still have nets…but might not be so fully tangled up within them.
Living thus, within our own resources and with an openness to the Spirit’s guidance as to how we are to be faithful in giving fully whenever, however, and wherever we may be asked, might be the middle ground of how it is people such as ourselves can live lives filled with mission, purpose, and spiritual fullness. Of course, that is not to say that indeed, a call may come at any time for us to give more, even much more that we are comfortable doing, and at significant cost…but it is still and always our choice to answer the call or not. The Spirit will never force us to accept the path before us, however, it may become easier to choose to do so as we gain experience in really trusting deeply in our Lord.
The unspoken burden behind this consideration of learning to give to others is still out there in our midst however. And it has gained a lot of traction within social and political discourse of late. This is due to the fact, that there is an increasing amount of disparity in terms of resources or access to resources between different segments of our society and culture. Many, with the ability to do so, are accruing more and more resources while others less fortunate, are doing increasingly poorer in terms of their ability to make ends meet and to be able to cover even the most basic of personal financial obligations. The economy may be improving but not all are beneficiaries of the change. And while many feel that this is not the purview of religion, it becomes so whenever it crosses over into injustice and structural or, systemic inequality…which by the way, was the primary focus and message of Jesus’ ministry.
Indeed, each one of us is free to consider the difference between the resources we have access to, and the actual resources we need to live with a faithful abundance of peace, joy, and holy purpose. And in many cases, it may be possible to see that we each can do more to help others…perhaps to quell the rising tide of unrest felt by so many with real need, and who feel as though they are sinking ever deeper into a hole with no exit.
I have felt for some time now, that if current trends towards increasing inequality continue on unchecked, we may see the increasing level of tension and stress working itself out in ways that threaten to overturn the apple cart of polite western culture and society…causing significant problems for all, not just for those less fortunate. And as much as this may sound negative to some, it may not sound the same to all…to those who find themselves in a place where it truly cannot get much worse and for whom the only way out is through ways as yet unimagined.
Which interestingly enough, actually might cause certain individuals of deep faith to leave the ‘tangle of their nets’ completely behind in service of the Spirit, as it swirls throughout a society in change and struggle. The idea of dropping everything to follow after this God who continues to call us by name, might gain a real following in such a time of social upheaval and change.
However, I am not sure that such violent change is imminent or necessary, in order begin to move towards a new day of balance and peaceful social equilibrium. I still feel that we have a responsibility as faithful witnesses to our God of love, to do our part in standing in the gap between need and hope, between real lack and sufficiency, and between mistrust or anger and compassionate caring love. As difficult as the road ahead may appear, if and when we look honestly at all that is around us, there still is room and need for the Good News of our Lord to be shared such that it births healing and renewal of life.
God’s love, as extended in faith by each one of us in community together, is capable of reversing a slide towards greater and potentially more harmful discontent. We cannot entertain apathy, when it comes to setting aside our nets and walking forward in faithful surrender. We simply cannot allow ourselves the luxury of taking on a ‘Titanic Confidence’…so sure that all is well, so not worried about everyone other than those in our immediate life circle…totally unafraid or perhaps foolishly oblivious to the growing needs and rising levels of injustice within our own towns and communities. Truly we all can and must do better…we do not have the option of finding a place to hide through denial.
The true challenge for each one of us is to find the ‘me-shaped hole’ in God’s plans and purpose, for I assure you, there is one there for each of us. It may not be a call to give everything up or to give away all that we have, and it is not a call to become a ‘homeless and hungry hermit’, unless of course if we are specifically asked to do so, which seems highly unlikely. What seems more likely, knowing the Spirit as we all do, is that the call will be for each one of us to find a way to become tools of increasing value to the Holy Spirit, using whichever of our gifts and talents are called for at that moment.
And, going back to the metaphor of our nets…it is important to remember that we must learn to hold on to all that we have, very, very lightly, never losing sight of the fact that indeed all that we do have came to us as a blessing and a gift from God. For indeed, our call as Christians, is to hold, cherish, and steward those resources to the best of our abilities for God’s use…and…that we must be willing to trust that surrendering them to God when requested does not take away from us at all, but rather enriches us greatly through the blessings that surely follow any who drop their nets immediately, to follow after our Lord.
One of the greatest things that can keep us apart from God, is a lack of trust regarding our own ‘needs’. For this can cause us to hoard resources instead of using them to lift up the whole of the blessed community we are blessed to be a part of. Do not forget the story of the early Israelites, and the ‘manna’ they were given as food in the wilderness…a flaky substance they gathered up each morning and used in baking bread in order to survive. Moses sternly told them to collect only what was needed for that day and no more. Not all trusted that God would continue to provide for them each day, and so some went out and collected more than was necessary for a single day’s bread. The account in Exodus 16 tells us that those who ignored Moses’ instruction found that by the next morning the extra manna they had set aside, was ‘full of worms and had turned foul’.
When our Lord taught us to pray for ‘daily bread’ perhaps it was so that we would have a greater and more constant dependence upon his provision and grace. Hoarding resources needed by others will at some point always be found full of worms and decidedly foul. On the other hand, sharing what we have with those in need, as directed by the Holy Spirit, and to the extent asked by that same Spirit, will result in blessings for giver and receiver alike.
God will never fail to meet our needs of those who seek to do His will. Are we willing to leave our nets behind and to follow the one who calls us deep within our hearts? Are we willing to search for a way to faithfully and lovingly surrender our gifts, talents, and resources into the control of the Holy Spirit…can we find a way to trust that the Spirit will use our gifts offered in ways that we can live with?
…is it possible that we only begin to actually live fully and abundantly when we learn how to walk freely of the nets that so often can keep us bound?
Personally, I have no illusions that I am able to leave behind my own nets behind immediately…
…however, I trust that the Spirit’s patience, is as strong as our Lord’s resolve to bring me into a place of fully trusting and greater usefulness in God’s unfolding plans.
…won’t you perhaps consider laying your nets down alongside of my own?