1/28/18: Casting Our Nets, Mark 1:14-20
Casting Our Nets
First Lesson: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Second Lesson: Mark 1:14-20
Rev. Scott Dickison
Two weeks ago we looked at the Gospel of John’s telling of the calling of the first disciples, where Jesus invites them to “come and see” what he’s up to, with the promise they’ll “see greater things than these.”
And now this morning we turn our attention to Mark’s telling of this story, which is probably the most familiar of these call stories. Jesus, is fresh out of the wilderness, just beginning his ministry, proclaiming to anyone who would listen, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near (literally the Greek says, the Kingdom of God is “at hand,” which I find even more powerful—the kingdom of God is so close you could touch it, or it you)—Repent, and believe the good news!He comes up to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and yells out to some fishermen, casting their nets into the sea: Hey! You there—come follow me.
And they do.
And every time I read this passage from Mark I can't help but ask the same question: What were they thinking? Don't you wonder?
What were they thinking to just drop everything like that?—Simon and Andrew first and then James and John. I'm pretty sure I know what their father, Zebedee, was thinking, but we can’t say words like that in church. Here they are, a group of fisherman—two out in their boats casting their nets and then a father and his two sons and a few of their hired hands—all out for a typical day’s work. And all of a sudden a traveling preacher strolls up to Simon and his brother Andrew, gives them a witty line about "fishing for people" instead of fish, and "Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” The sons of Zebedee didn't even need a line—it just says, "Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him."
"Immediately," it says, both times. And this is typical of Mark’s gospel—the pace is quick. It’s always “immediately this, immediately that”—Mark uses the word over 40 times in his relatively short gospel, more than the other gospels combined. Why the hurry? Well, remember, the kingdom is at hand—it’s coming. There’s an urgency here. And maybe it’s this urgency that’s most offensive about this passage. There’s no hesitation, no second guessing, no considering of the facts or options, no questions! They handle this in a way we would never advise anyone to handle anything! I can’t even buy a pair of socks without circling the store a time or two with them in the cart, just to make sure I really need them. I usually talk myself out of it.
And we’re talking about much more than socks here. In fact, we often misinterpret this story of the call of the first disciples by portraying them as poor young men with nothing to lose, but this wasn’t the case. They were by no means wealthy, but as fishermen they weren’t poor either. They were solidly middle-class, maybe even upper-middle class. They were small-business owners, and we know that have employees. They had mortgages, families, lives. It wasn’t until after they followed Jesus that they lost these things. These were the things they dropped in order to follow Jesus that day by the sea. In fact, it’s precisely because they had so much that makes their decision to follow so extraordinary. It’s so extraordinary because by all accounts—mine, yours, their families’, their culture’s—they had something to lose.
Make no mistake—there was more in those old worn-out fishing nets they left behind that day than fish.
Everything they had and everything they were was wrapped up in those nets. It was about those nets that Jesus said, No, no. To come with me, you’ve got to leave those here. Even if they work, they’re pulling in far less than you’re capable of, and if they’re worn out, you’re spending more time than you ought to just hold them together. And suddenly Jesus isn’t talking about just some old crusty fishing nets. He’s talking about all the things that keep us busy, keep us occupied—all the things we get tangled up in and that even come to define us. All the things that, if we’re not careful, can keep us from hearing the voice of Jesus when he calls. And we’ve all got our nets.
We’ve all got out nets. And the truth is, some of them are probably not so different from the things I just listed for the disciples: careers, mortgage, families. Now, hear me, none of these things have to be nets in the way we mean them here: these lesser things that we elevate to greater things. Many folks draw a lot of good meaning and self-worth from their career, their vocation—the word vocation after all comes from the Latin vocare which means “to call.” For some, their career is this, a calling. But for others, many others, the thing they do for a living is not what they feel called to do; it’s not the thing that gives them life. It’s not the one thing they can’t not do. I would venture to say that for most people, what they do for work, to make a living, is not their calling. But the problem is that little room is left for figuring out just what is.
And the same is true for our families. For some, their family or perhaps their role within the family, gives them life and a way to live out the calling of God on their life. Mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle—these relationships can be powerful and important and good. But sometimes they aren’t.
Sometimes we find ourselves stuck, unable to find a footing in the world or in the Kingdom of God apart from these relationships, because our families usually only see us one way. I’ve heard it put before that within our families we’re often given scripts that let us know what part we’re to play. You’re the all-star first born upon whom all the dreams and expectations rest. You’re the under-functioning black sheep who no one understands and who always seems to disappoint. You’re the savior, you’re the peacemaker, you’re the funny-one. You’re the father who always has it together, never shows emotion or weakness or worry. You’re the doting wife and mother who always loves, always cares, always makes sure things are working and washed and on time, always sacrificing for the good of the family. My mother is a grown woman, retired after years of teaching school, serving as head of her department for many of them, with awards and recognition—a mentor for so many young get teachers in those last few years on the job. And yet whenever we go back down to Florida where she's from and the rest of her family still lives, she’s still the baby.
We all have these scripts that we’ve followed for much of our life. And they’re hard to break free from. If we can find the will to question them or try something else, others get confused: Um, that’s not your line.
We all have our nets; these obligations, these scripts that if we’re not careful can keep us from following the call of Jesus on our life. Maybe it’s the way we’ve grown to see life and the world and other people: with cynicism and disappointment and distrust. Maybe it’s own imperfections, our own wounds. Our wounds have a way of trapping us just as much as our strengths. Yes, wounds must be tended to, and we mustn’t be ashamed of them—we talk about that a lot. But it’s also true that wounds don’t have to define us. They’re not all we are. We can’t live in our wound. I’ve heard it compared to gardening. When you’re planting a garden it’s necessary to do the hard work of turning over the soil, pulling out all the weeds—tearing open the earth to prepare a space for new growth. But you can’t just keep tilling—keep turning over the land. There comes a time when you have to do some planting. The same is true of us: we can’t just keep nursing our wounds. There comes a point when something new must be planted.
The truth is, just about anything can become a net. Because a net is anything that can distract us from the call to something more, something greater. And understand, I’m not talking about some loosie-goosie notion self-fulfillment or “following your heart.” I’m talking about something deeper; something harder. Something more costly Remember, the call to follow Jesus is the call to follow him to the cross before it’s anything else. The nets are almost always the safe choice; it’s dropping them that’s risky.
Which is why it’s hard too drop them. It’s so hard to let them go. But this is always what it takes: in order to take something on, certainly something of any significance, we must let go of something else.
And this is not how we prefer it—or at least, it’s not I prefer it. My way is to try and hold it all at once. If I just try harder, if I just do it better, if I just work longer, I can do it all.
But it’s not true. It’s not true.
It’s not true with little things and it’s certainly not true of matters of the heart, matters of the soul. Matters of the cross. We’ve finally got to let some things go if we want to take up other things; if we want to truly give ourselves over to the things that really matter. We’ve got to let go of those nets. Those things we’ve held for so long we don’t know what else our hands are made for. Those things we cast without even thinking. Those things we can’t imagine living without. Or can we? Can you imagine what it would feel like to let some of those things go?
Fred Craddock tells a story that I’ve shared before about visiting his niece, who would take in greyhound dogs who were no longer racing and otherwise would be put down. She had one of these dogs, and it just moved around the house, and would cuddle up next to him. One of the children, a toddler, was there pulling on his tail and while another child laid his head on the dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. The dog just seemed so happy, and so Craddock struck up a conversation with the dog.
He said to the dog, “Well, are you still racing?”
“No, no” the dog said, “I don’t race anymore.”
Craddock said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”
“No,” the dog replied.
“Well, what was the matter? Did you get too old to race?”
“No, I still had some race in me.”
“Well, what then? Did you not win?” he asked.
“I won over a million dollars for my owner.”
“Well, what was it? Bad treatment?”
“Oh, no,” the dog said, “they treated us royally when we were racing.”
“Did you get crippled?”
“Then why?” Craddock pressed,
And the dog said, “I quit.”
“Yes,” he said, “I quit.”
“Why did you quit?”
“I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit, and I quit.” The dog looked at him and said, “ All that running and running and running and running, and what was I chasing? It wasn’t even real.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the lectionary would give us these call stories back to back to start this new year—these stories of ordinary people living their ordinary lives, just the same as they always had, when all of the sudden they’re faced with something altogether new. And it unsettles them. They find their grip loosening on all the things that just seconds before seemed so important. And before they even know it, their grip has loosened so much that their hands are suddenly open. And their free. Just like that.
What nets are you holding at the start of this new year?
What would if feel like to let them go? Amen.
 Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live?