Mending nets

22 January 2017
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 3A (RCL)

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Don’t you wonder what would have compelled Simon and Andrew, James and John to drop everything and follow this random wandering preacher, announcing the coming of the Kingdom? Matthew provides us with precious little detail about the nature of the interaction between Jesus and these first followers. They simply follow. We are left to wonder what attracted them.

Simon and Andrew are poor. They own a net – the Greek word is for a net cast with both hands. They were probably standing thigh deep in the water, casting the net for what they could catch. They didn’t have much to drop to follow Jesus. James and John, on the other hand, are a little further up the economic ladder. Zebedee, their father, at least owns a boat and a family business. It would take a little more to get them to leave everything behind.

This passage in Matthew comes immediately after the temptation in the wilderness. Satan, or the devil (both words means something like prosecuting attorney) has tempted Jesus to make bread from stones, to throw himself on God’s security, and to bow down in order to receive the kingship of all the world. Jesus has refused. Israel faced all three temptations in the wilderness (see the book of Numbers): hunger, safety and power — and grumbled and not followed God’s instructions. Jesus has remained faithful where Israel did not.

It was from that moment that Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He picks up where John the Baptist left off. The repentance required is learning to see what the kingdom of heaven looks like. It looks like Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, following all the way through to his enthronement on the cross. If you can fast for 40 days and not give in to the temptation to get food through the devils wiles, Rome will never be able to cow you. If you do not assume that God’s election means you will never suffer, then suffering will not turn you aside from life in the kingdom. If you can avoid the temptation to force you view on others by resorting to the devil’s violence, you can work to bring about the kingdom. This is a major rethinking, or repentance from the standard story.

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, he tells them they will be fishers of people. We almost always hear this an a call to the kind of evangelism that is gratified by increased numbers. I suspect that the early christians heard this as a call to reconnect people in the network of the kingdom. When Jesus encounters James and John, they are in their father’s boat mending their nets. The Greek word is katartizein. Paul uses exactly this word in the passage we hear from 1 Corinthians this week. My translation of verse 10 is: I appeal to you, brothers (and sisters), through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak in harmony, and that their be no rifts among you, but that you should be mended into one mind and one purpose.

It seems that the idea of a net (which can be ripped and mended) is already a metaphor for the christian community by the time Paul is writing this letter – indeed a guiding metaphor. If Jesus was inviting Simon and Andrew, and James and John to a new endeavor to repair the social fabric of the kingdom, that starts to sound compelling. Rome and the Herods had certainly shattered much of the social cohesion of Judea, and particularly the Galilee of the Gentiles. People had been taxed off their land to build Herod’s cities and to pay the necessary tributes to Rome. The Roman armies were a constant presence and threat to peace and prosperity. Simon and Andrew were likely small-holders who had been taxed off their land and had to resort to fishing with a hand net. Zebedee wasn’t too far up the ladder. Jesus is inviting them to the work of mending the social fabric. What did they have to lose?

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