Seven of the 12 Jesus’ disciples were fisherman. In our gospel reading this morning, we meet Peter, Andrew, James and John, a pair of brothers both engaged in their work.
Three of these men – Peter, James, and John - will become the big three of the twelve. They are mentioned the most. We know the most about them. They are there at the essential events of Jesus’ adult life and ministry – the Transfiguration, Christ’s resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, and Christ’s submission in the Garden of Gethsemane. And especially Peter and John are key figures in the birth of the Church.
Not only were Peter, James, and John fisherman, they seem to have been successful fishermen. How do we know this?
Peter in a parallel text from Luke is described as owning two fishing boats. He lived in Bethsaida, a thriving town deemed a kind of desirable suburb of the Galilee. He had a wife and children. His mother-in-law lived with the family, and Peter was able to support all of them as a fisherman.
As for James and John, Mark 1 notes they worked for their father who not only employed his sons but other fishermen.
This kind of success for fishermen was unusual. But for Jesus’ movement, it was crucial.
We sometimes forget that Jesus’ ministry required financial support. It required business savvy as well. Peter, James, and John provided some of this, as did Mary Magdalene, and two other women who financially supported the Jesus movement named Joana and Susanna.
The Sea of Galilee, which is really a lake, was steeped with fishermen. Fishing after all, was the essential trade in Galilee. Galilean society relied upon it.
Think about fishing communities in Costal Maine and Cape Cod. This was the Sea of Galilee with its hamlets and towns. Without the fishing industry these towns would not exist.
Fish was the key staple of the Galilean diet. We all know family members or friends who say, “oh, I don’t like fish.” Well, if you didn’t like fish in Jesus’ day around the Galilee, you didn’t like to survive.
What was the fishermen’s’ life like?
Well, fishermen literally worked all day long.
Actual fishing usually happened at nighttime. In the dark, fish would be less able to see the nets and thus wouldn’t swim around them. Fishing at night also meant avoiding the hot sun in the summers.
It was hard, physical work that also demanded a high level of mind power – planning, organization, and flexible thinking. What worked one day out on the lake might not work the next, so you had to think, adjust, and adapt.
The Galilee is really deep, and so we’re talking deep water fishing. Deep fishing on a larger scale necessitated multiple boats with nets connecting them. Boats would go out seven or eight times during the night. By the morning, the fishermen could bring in a half ton of fish.
The early part of the day stayed just as busy. The fish would be sorted and readied for sale. The nets were washed and tears and rips were mended. The nets were then air dried, folded, and prepared for the next catch.
The fishermen kept their own schedule, free to start fishing and stop work when they wanted. In fact, in the record there are complaints because fishermen preferred to go to Synagogue to pray rather than fish on the Sabbath.
Fishermen stereotypically were gruff and rough around the edges. You know the idiom, “swear like a sailor.” This could have been applied to the fishermen sailing on the lake of Galilee. Yet these cursing sailors through their diligence, tenacity, and savviness fed a whole region.
And among these ruff, gruff commoners, Jesus chooses more than half of his disciples.
Here’s some more fish-talk.
Before the Cross became the central symbol of Christianity, the fish was. I’m sure you’ve seen the fish symbol on cars, on bumper stickers, and elsewhere. That is an ancient symbol dating back to the earliest days of the church. The anchor, also a fishing related symbol, was an early Christian symbol along with the fish.
The fish symbol had multiple meanings. Yes, it was related to what we’ve been talking about. Jesus led a movement steeped in a culture of fishing, fishermen, fishing for people. But here’s another layer – Jesus himself was deemed a fish.
If you look at the cover of your order of service, you’ll notice Greek letters that look like IXOYE, the Greek word for fish. Those Greek letters are the first letters of the following name – Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.
The Greek word and symbol for fish meant Jesus Christ.
To fish for people, to draw and bring people into the boat called the Beloved Community, it is the fish that is Christ that’s used. Christ is the bait fishers of people use to draw people in.
Evangelism means offering Christ, his way, truth, and life.
Mainliners like us in the UCC don’t talk a lot about Evangelism. But Evangelism is what Jesus is talking about when he says, I will make you fisher of people. Jesus calls us to the same work. We too are called to draw and bring in people to our faith.
When I was a kid growing up in the Evangelical tradition, sharing the good news with as many as we could was an expectation of being a Christian. Yes, I used to knock on doors and invite people to Christ.
I’m not saying we ought to exactly follow suit. But we have good news to share, too, right? Shouldn’t we be sharing it?
No matter where you are on life’s journey, God loves you, welcomes you, and stands ready to change your heart and your life. That is the good news we share and should be eager to share.
It goes even deeper than this personal hope we know in God’s love.
The whole world is involved in this hope born of God’s love .
All that began with God through Christ, will end in God through Christ. The world God’s love created through Christ, in Christ will be fully and eternally reconciled to God’s love.
God through Christ will be all in all, in all things with nothing, not even hell, spared and no one left behind. For whatever God is in, whatever God’s presence pervades, becomes what it was created to be – good.
That is the good news we share! It is a news so good we can hardly fathom it. We can only share it.
And how people need to hear this unfathomably good news.
So, let us follow Christ and be fishers of people, drawing and bringing people into the fold and into the loving light of God’s ever-embracing presence. Let us, despite our gruffness and roughness around the edges, become diligent, tenacious, and savvy in expanding this boat called the Beloved Community, a community enraptured with new life born of God’s love.