Sunday, January 26, 2020

Out of the frying pan...

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee… Withdrew its such a gentle word. It sounds as if Jesus was going into a prayerful retreat.  To withdraw in prayer can be good and can help each of us grow spiritually. But this is not what is happening here.

Some people tell me they couldn’t do what I do especially when I was a hospice chaplain I heard it all the time.  When I was in training at children’s hospital Los Angeles. if there was a code, a scream, an emergency I automatically ran toward the pain, towards the trouble. I even had fellow chaplains that would comment how they couldn’t do that.

I think the same thing about our fire and police people. I couldn’t do what they do.  They put themselves in the line of fire everyday They run into burning buildings.  The go into hostage situations and fire fights without hesitating…that is what their calling is.

So now,Think of this…who arrested John the Baptist? Herod Antipas and where is Herod’s seat/house Located? Galilee…so Jesus is moving into the dangerous territory ruled by the puppet king Herod.

If that doesn’t make matters bad enough much of Jesus’ message is the same.  Repent for the kindom of heaven is at hand.  But there is a difference Jesus is not just using words but actions…he is healing, walking with, and dining with, the marginalized. He is speaking out against the ruling classes not only Rome but the Jewish leadership as well.  Jesus is a political controversy and dangerous to the status quo.

“Jesus’ message is identical to John’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17; cf. 3:2). Though the content is the same, the context is very different. John was the forerunner, who prepared the way. Jesus is the embodiment of the message. In his preaching and in his ministry, light has dawned and the reign of God has come.

Like John, Jesus calls people to repent. The Greek verb “repent” (metanoeo), like the Hebrew verb “repent” (shub), means “turn around.” Repentance in biblical thought involves not merely apology, but change: change direction, change your behavior, change your life.”[i]

Jesus is calling out for more than a mere apology or heartfelt recognition that something is wrong in our lives but that we must turn around, take a different path, we need to walk on a new way.  And the following passage demonstrate just that.

Jesus is walking along the coast of the sea of Galilee and he calls out... Simon who is called Peter and James They immediately dropped their nets and followed him. Imagine how lucky they must have felt to have an opportunity to stop fishing and follow Jesus instead. Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to just wander about the holy land listening to Jesus preach, teach and heal.

But not so fast, what does this really mean, what did it mean to be a fisherman at the time of Jesus.
The Sea of Galilee has been renowned for its fish from ancient times. There are 18 different species that are indigenous to the lake. They are classified locally into three main groups: sardines, biny and musht.

Sardines are endemic to the lake. Today at the height of the fishing season tens of tons of sardines are caught every night. Biny fish consist of three species of the carp family. Because they are “well fleshed” they are very popular at feasts and for Sabbath. Musht means “comb.” These are large fish, some of which are 16 inches long and weigh 2 pounds.

Fishing in Galilee was/ and is a thriving industry. Fish was the main source of protein, and the market for fish was extensive. The population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was about 500,000. The ordinary masses depended on fish along with bread as a staple food. Satisfying the epicurean appetites of the upper classes at home and abroad with dried fish was a profitable business.

The fishermen oversaw all aspects of the business. They furnished the boats and equipment for the actual fishing. They paid their help and paid the quota to the tax collector. They attended to the business of sale, were accountable for the preserving of the fish and shipment, and did their own bargaining.

The fishermen hired sailors and fishers (maybe day laborers) to do the work, care for the boats, mend the nets, sift and count the fish. These fishermen operated in legal partnership with others. They belonged to guilds (much like trade unions).

Zebedee, the father of James and John, owned his boats and hired day laborers. This leads to the presumption that he and his sons had a sizeable business, which would have required travel. Peter and Andrew were partners with them.

James and John, according to the gospels, traveled frequently to Jerusalem where fish was required for the pilgrim feasts. It has been suggested that they supplied fish for the high priestly family (the gospel says that John was known to the High Priest, Caiaphas). Was it on these trips that Jesus went to Jerusalem? In John’s Gospel we find him there for many of the feasts, which would have been the times when fishermen went with their fish.

Jesus Chose Fishermen

Jesus entrusted fishermen from Bethsaida with the spreading of his message. They were the ones he commissioned to be fishers of people and to teach all nations. He may have done this for practical reasons. These were savvy businessmen. They were multilingual. Their native tongue was Aramaic. They would also have known Hebrew. Knowledge of Greek would have been essential for people like Peter and his co-workers who were involved in the fishing business. The gospels themselves suggest that they were able to carry on conversations with Greek speakers the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26), people in the Decapolis where the curing of the deaf man took place (Mk 7:31), and the incident of Philip and Andrew conversing with the Greeks (Jn 12:20-23). They may also have had a smattering of Latin. Peter converses with the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:25).

Fishermen had to develop attributes that others did not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community- oriented.

As businessmen they had to be judges of character, savvy about the market, conscientious about their civic and religious responsibility. They had to have respect for the law and learn to operate within its limitations. All of this was required in their new enterprise. And in bringing the skills of their trade to Jesus, these fishermen changed the world.

Knowing all this of the trade of fishing and their skill sets and most likely their income and lifestyle… Imagine what it means to drop their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus called and they answered without even thinking about it. God placed something on their hearts and when Jesus called they knew this was the time to answer.

There are other stories in the Gospels where people are feeling called for example the young well to do man in Mathew 19 who says to Jesus what must I do to enter heaven and Jesus explains to him to keep the commandments and the young man states I do all that then Jesus says “well if you want to be perfect sell all you have and give the money to the poor” to which the writer tells us the young man “went away grieving for he had many possessions.”

Here was a young man who too felt he had a calling that God had placed something upon his heart and yet when he decided to explore what that meant he wasn’t prepared to answer the call. Then there is the instance of the person who Jesus says follow me and his response is “allow me to bury my father first” and of course Jesus’ reply is “let the dead bury their dead”. Often we feel this response is harsh yet this is nature of Devine calling in Scripture. The characteristics are all the same; they require instant obedience, the caller is not aware of exactly what they are being called to; and the response is through faith alone.

In today’s time here and now we are constantly being called by God. We are not called once, to become people of faith, but many times. All through our lives Christ is calling us. God called us first into life at the moment of our creation. Christ calls us into relationship with God and the spirit. Whether we listen for that voice or not, it is there calling us to come ever closer. If we somehow feel we are less than or we hold ourselves accountable for something we have done or haven’t done, we are called into forgiveness; If we are struggling to fulfill our calling, Christ calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness. Calling is constantly inviting us to go further and deeper with God.

It is sad but all too often we think of Christ’s call as something that happened in the day of the Apostles along the Sea of Galilee or only for those entering the religious life and Yet Christ is among us calling us this very day often we do not believe it ,we do not hear it or feel it, we do not look for it in our own lives.
These sacred callings come to us suddenly and have obscure consequences just as in any account of calling. The accidents and events of life are one special way in which callings occur and they are, by definition, sudden and unexpected. You may be going about your daily routine and you come across a letter, or a note, or a person, and now you find yourself faced with something, which, if met prayerfully and whole-ly ( that is spelled Wholely) that is with full conciseness and intentionality there may be an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God.

Perhaps it may be the loss of someone dear to us which shows us the impermanence of things in this life and how unimportant the collecting of “things” are and calls us to turn and become more focused on God.

The little things which we do, or we respond to, that come to us as suddenly as a summer squall, may be just the answer to open us up to new possibilities and greater understanding of God callings here and now. It may open up our hearts and minds into a truer view of life and choices that we have not seen before.

Another way that the call may come and we answer is through daily devotion, perhaps you read scripture everyday and suddenly see something in a new way in which we never have before. A new light may seem to shine in Jesus and his Apostles and the way they lived their lives and responded to the world around them that suddenly you see you can now respond to life in a way that you have never responded before.

The Calling of Christ and God is constant, often referred to as the lure. God is ever luring us into a deeper relationship of prayer and awareness. Yet to answer the calls of God requires a prayerfull relationship.

There is an old story about a man sitting at a bar getting drunk in Alaska. He’s telling the bartender about how he recently lost his faith in God after his twin engine plane crashed in the tundra. "Yeah," he says bitterly, I lay there in the wreckage praying with all of my might and crying out to God to save me, and he didn’t raise a finger to help me. I'm through believing in a God who doesn’t care about what happens to me."

"But you’re here talking to me," says the bartender, "You were saved."

"Yeah, that's right," says the man, "because finally some Eskimo came along. . ."

God appears to us through many different people and speaks to us in many different ways. If we have a preconceived notion of what God looks like, or sounds like, we just might miss her when she calls! The voice of God does not always sound like Charleston Heston in Cecil B. Demille’s, "Ten Commandments." Even Samuel, from the Old Testament, confused the voice of God with the voice of his mentor, Eli. God calls each one of us, but we may not recognize God's voice.
When I say that God calls each one of us, I simply mean that the Holy Spirit has a desire to lead us and guide us throughout our lives. I don’t mean that God is like a great puppet-master sitting up in heaven pulling the strings and making us dance around. But the one who created us all gave us different gifts and desires, and we were given those gifts and desires for a reason.

When we dedicate our lives to following Christ, we are choosing to live as God would want us to live, and to use our gifts for the greater good. God calls us to be who we are and to live as authentically as we can. When we follow God's direction for our lives, we are being who we were created to be.

The word vocation is derived from the Latin word Vocare, which means, "to call." A vocation is a calling, which sets it apart from being merely a job. My professor Frank Rogers always taught us that; “Vocation is the place in the road where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest needs meet." God can and does call us at different stages in our lives. For some people, the call is very clear and there is no question about following it. Simon, Andrew, James and John did not hesitate to drop their nets and follow Jesus, leaving the lives and the work that they knew well. It doesn’t mean they were comfortable with the decision.  It was just something so strong on their heart that they had to go.

You see, sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone. Quoting Micah 6:8, South African United Methodist Bishop George Irvine has said, "If it’s loving, if it’s just, if it promotes right relationships, and if it scares the hell out of you, it just might be a call from God."

I was resistant to what God was calling me to do. It was summer 2008.   I was living in Palm Springs CA.  I was comfortable and didn’t need a new career. It meant giving up the life I knew, it meant going into debt, and it meant having the openness to say I am ready to go wherever you lead me. I struggled with it.

 When we follow God's call, we can be assured that God will guide us every step of the way. God often calls us to step into the unknown and do things that require courage and faith on our part. It may just feel like one is often moving  out of the frying pan and into the fire.

When we are open to the leading of the Spirit, and allow ourselves to, as Frederick Buechner, says in Listening to Your Life;

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."


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