Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake - for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
"Follow me and I will make you fish for people."
In the days before we in the church became rightfully attuned to the importance and necessity of using inclusive language, this is a phrase that used to read: 'Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.' It served (and still does) as a clarion call to 'evangelical' Christians to go out into the world and 'win souls for Jesus.' In our day and in our 'mainline' church tradition, the focus on dialogue with and sensitivity to a multiplicity of religious approaches might cause us to question both the relevance and purposefulness of these words. After all, the last thing many of us Christians want is to convey the notion that it is only in following Christ that one can find eternal life or live a moral, ethical existence here upon this earth. How then can this short phrase be significant for our work as a contemporary church? What could these words possibly mean in the lives of our congregations?
My suggestion for us this week, as we reflect upon Jesus' words, is that we as a church community be sure that, in our preaching, our education, our worship, and in what we say and do with our young, we are sure to place our focus upon Jesus. We need to talk about what he taught and how he lived and the impact that all had both on why he was eventually put to death and upon the lives of other people.
After all, it is the life and the teachings of Jesus that have motivated and inspired individuals such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, André Trocmé and the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the martyrs of El Salvador, and so many more who in both public and private ways have been moved to courageous and bold action.
These individuals were captured, caught as it were, by the Word of God made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth. A church that does not focus on Jesus and the way his life can move ours simply ceases to be what the church must be - a community of people willing to fish for others to join this movement which can change peoples' lives and transform God's world. Sadly, it is all too easy to be a church focused on eternal insurance or the convictions of one's political ideology, be it center, left or right. In so many ways, I think it's fair to say that we as a church, through our use of the best possible academic scholarship and translation of that scholarship into our preaching and teaching and action, need to find ways to get ourselves back to Jesus!
"Day by day, Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray: To see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day." Amen.
Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle is an ordained UCC clergyperson who has served churches in Union and Manchester, Connecticut, as well as ELCA churches in Windsor, Wethersfield, and Plainville, Connecticut. He also worked as a teacher and counselor in ...