It was dangerous, with the sudden storms that swept upon the lake. And it didn’t bring in much money. Fishing was big business, but unlike the captains here in Morro Bay, the fishermen were not entrepreneurs. They were at the bottom of a rigid hierarchy, and got to keep very little of what they caught. Fishermen had to have licenses to fish the waters as well as provide most of their catch to those higher up. There were even fishing police who made sure that no-one was fishing illegally or selling to unauthorized middlemen.
Antipas, who was the ruler of Galilee under Rome, was a man who liked luxury and who extracted the maximum tax from his subjects so that he could enjoy his lifestyle and keep Rome happy as well. He had some pretty ambitious building projects, including the spa town of Tiberias, which were expensive, and the money had to come from somewhere. This was clearly a situation in which the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
In today’s gospel reading we are told that when Jesus heard that John had been arrested he went to Galilee and, specifically, moved to Capernaum on the shore of the sea. The language Matthew uses here suggests that Jesus moved because of a threatening situation. It seems that Jesus was one of John’s disciples and moved from the Jordan up to Galilee because it would be safer for the movement that John had started. And certainly Jesus took over John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
But his ministry was different. Instead of focusing on baptism like John, Jesus became an itinerant teacher and healer. And his message seems to have changed. He didn’t tell the fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John to repent, but simply to follow him. Perhaps the simple act of leaving their nets, their livelihood, such as it was and following him was the equivalent of repentance. Because repentance means to change direction. Jesus called these four men to radically change their lives and follow him.
Jesus has called, and continues to call us to follow him. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now. It requires frequent course adjustments. It requires courage and humility.
The essence of Jesus’ life, teaching and death are that a system based on blaming others, a system based on violence, does not bring life or human flourishing. Jesus conquered death. Jesus won. Yet he did not blame or shame – he was the perfect self-giving victim – the one who was blamed for the unrest in Jerusalem. The one who was blamed, not just by the Roman authorities but by his very own people.
None of us wants to be blamed. None of us wants to be scapegoated. But it is part of human nature. In order to feel better about ourselves we gang up on others, belittling them and excluding them.
You’ve heard me talk about this before and you’ll hear me talk about it again. It seems that we are entering a time when blaming and scapegoating will be commonplace. Which requires us to be ever vigilant and to refuse to be drawn into the dominant language of our culture. It is hard. It’s hard for me not to judge and belittle people when they seem to act in unprofessional ways. I suspect there will be many times in the next four years when I have to repent of my arrogance.
The reign of God is one where people forgive one another, not one where people hold grudges and make judgments against each other. it is one where self-giving love is powerful, not blaming and scapegoating.
In the second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we heard that the Corinthian church was having a difficult time with this. They had divided up into factions which then judged and belittled each other in order to feel good about themselves. We are all one in Christ, none of us are better than another. In fact, we are told to honor more greatly those who in the dominant socio-cultural system are at the bottom of the pile.
There will always be disagreements in the church. We all have different ways of doing things, and sometimes we get to practice humility by saying to ourselves, “I wouldn’t do it that way but I’m not the one doing it.” Sometimes we get unwelcome feedback from someone else and it’s easy to dismiss it with anger or to push back with blaming. This is yet another opportunity to practice repentance and humility. It is an opportunity to give the situation over to God and ask for ways to find a loving response. It is a time to pray not just for our enemy but for those who irritate the heck out of us.
This is when we really grow spiritually – when we practice the teachings of Jesus in our everyday relationships with the people around us.
It isn’t easy. None of this is easy.
But it wasn’t easy when Jesus started his ministry, and it certainly wasn’t easy at the end.
Jesus lived in an oppressive social system where the rich got richer at the expense of the poor. We live in an oppressive social system where 8 men own as much as half the rest of the world, Jesus was preaching and healing in a world where it was difficult to get ahead. We live in a world where it’s difficult for most people to get ahead. Jesus teachings are as relevant in our time as they were two thousand years ago.
I know that many of us are anxious and worried about the years ahead. But God has not changed. God is as faithful today as she was 2/3/4000 years ago. As the psalm says,
God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? God is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Our calling is to repent and follow Jesus in our world today. Our calling is to continue to practice living and loving as he did; forgiving our enemies as well as our friends, and refusing to get drawn into the system of violence and scapegoating. Our calling is to let go of all that might hold us back from following Jesus, to leave our nets in their boats, and to go courageously forward trusting that we will be led, we will be guided, and that God who is our light and our salvation, will bring resurrection from every death, again and again and again.