The first four people that Jesus calls to follow and learn from him were in the business of catching and selling fish. The Gospel according to Mark tells us that Jesus saw them working and invited them into a life of discipleship with a play on words that described their new vocation in terms of their old one. “I will make you fish for people” is how he put it.
Like many good communicators, Jesus knew how to be funny and profoundly serious at the same time. The fishing metaphor worked for Simon, Andrew, James and John on several levels:
- It described a change of direction in their own lives, a pivoting away from their old work.
- It picked up and built off an old image of God seeking out those who are estranged.
- It introduced the idea that those who are called by God die to an old way of life in favor of life with God.
- It hinted at the fact that life apart from God is lived in a chaotic abyss.
The four fishermen would have gotten all of this intuitively; they were as deeply engaged in their vocation as fishermen. It’s what they thought about and what they talked about. It’s how they spent their days and why they sought sleep at night. When Jesus calls them fishers of people, he’s building on their deep knowledge born out of years of experience.
We can find these insights for ourselves, if we take the time to study the Gospels and seek connections into their cultural context, but it won’t be intuitive for us. We’ll have to imagine our way into the things that Simon and his fellows just knew.
But you know stuff too.
All of us fill our days with the activities of our various callings. We are students and professors, managers of projects and people, we are tradespeople and technicians, cooks and custodians. We are writers and musicians and artists, scientists and mathematicians. We are fathers and mothers, sisters, brothers and friends. When we spend time doing things, we develop expertise and that knowledge is of great value. In addition to helping us be good at what we do, it provides us with ways of looking at life.
I know that for me, the vocation of fatherhood has deepened my insight into the nature of God’s commitment to creation. I was working as a pastor for several years before our son was born. As a seasoned preacher, I had lots of experience describing the love God has for us. Looking back, I believe I didn’t really understand what I was talking about. Like many new fathers, my definition of love deepened and widened with the birth of our child. I think back on the conversations I had as a younger pastor and realize that I was only scratching the surface in my understanding of God’s abiding promises for us. With deeper insight, I know that I still am.
How does Jesus call you? How can your vocations – the things you know from doing – provide you with a way to describe the rule and reign of God? How does your life’s work give you ways of describing the hope that is yours in Jesus?
It might have nothing to do with fish and that’s just fine.
Jan 31, 2018
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.