Matthew 4: 18-22
So often people form their identity by what they do in life; that is their profession or vocation. They take pride in what they do, the accomplishments they have made, and their ability to sustain their livelihood and families by how they spend their time. Often it supplies a healthy dose of self esteem so that their personal identity becomes intertwined with their work life. But what happens when one’s identity is traded in for another identity?
I remember back in 2011 when I lived in New Haven the headlines one of the New Haven Register read, ‘Time to Turn the Page.’ It was referring to Senator Joe Lieberman’s decision not to run again for a fifth term for the US Senate in 2012. After 22 years Lieberman said, it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter, and so he announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election to a fifth term in the Senate.…he goes on to say, “This was not an easy decision for me to make, because I have loved serving in the Senate, and I feel good about what I have accomplished. But I know it is the right decision and, I must say, I am excited about beginning a new chapter of life with new opportunities.”
Whether you liked Joe Lieberman or not, whether you have agreed with Joe’s politics or not, whether you like the fact (or not) that he switched parties, that’s not the point. The point is, for this now former Senator a new identity had to be forged.
Maybe it was frightening for him to leave the halls of the Senate building that had sheltered him all of those years. After all, it was pretty comfortable, he knew where the bathrooms were, he knew where to park and where to buy the morning paper. The fact is letting go is not without its anxieties and trepidation. Now we know that he has a new focus as Chairman of the Executive Board of the private equity firm, Victory Park Capital.
What we find in today’s text is a letting go and a picking up. As Jesus walked next to the Sea of Galilee, which is not large, he sees two brothers Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, fishermen they were. Fishing was an important aspect of the Galilean economy in the first century. We’re not sure if Simon Peter and Andrew were day laborer fishermen, or fishermen who owned the boat and employed day laborers, or if they were even tax collectors with a fishing franchise…all were part of the Roman system which was not a free market. The text is silent on this one. All we know is that they were identified as fishermen.
Simon Peter might have heard people say, ‘Oh, there goes Simon Peter the fisherman’, or ‘Hey, that fisherman Andrew might have some good catch for us today.’ However you want to look at it, their profession and identity were one. How often do we hear the Bible say, Simon Peter the husband and father? Not often, never in fact.
But as providence would have it Jesus was walking on the basalt rocky shore of the Galilee and at the port he sees these two fishermen. “Follow me” he says, “I’ll make you fish for people.” The Bible states that ‘immediately’, IMMEDIATELY they left their nets and followed Jesus. Same thing happens with the Zebedee brothers, James and John. So now this little band of fishermen soon-to-be disciples have dropped their nets to follow Jesus.
They didn’t ask questions like I would have asked. Questions like, ‘Well Jesus, where are we going?” or “Why should I?”, “How long will we be gone?” or even “What will I have to give up or let go of?” No, the Bible says that they ‘left their nets’. They dropped them. Right there. In the Capernaum port on the shore of the Galil they dropped their nets and they were no longer fishermen.
If we go with that image of dropping the nets as a metaphor for letting go of the past and embracing the future I think that it can bear some juicy fruit for us today as individuals and as the church. When the disciples dropped their nets it was a casting off of an old identity, the usual way of life, the way of life that had become very comfortable.
Probably some traditions, both good and bad, had to be abandoned, some mindsets, also good and bad had to be discarded, maybe even some veneered identities, that had become part and parcel of who they were, that had to be let go of so that they could walk with Jesus unencumbered. They took their skills and know-how from the fishing trade and applied them to the changing world about them. They were no longer fishermen but disciples who followed the call placed on them.
We like our identities don’t we? We like the things we do or the possessions we own. We like, or if not like, we need to sustain some level of control or sanity (whatever you want to name it,) even if it has just stopped working or become dysfunctional. We like to hold tightly onto those nets that we have cast into the sea of life because to do otherwise might harm or even destroy us.
Being exposed is one of our greatest fears and if we let go we clearly step into the unknown where anything could happen, maybe even failure because if you live in one way for so long it is easier to maintain the status quo of your life rather than to risk fear, anxiety, or disorientation. And so you hold on to those nets, but perhaps you will never reach your greatest potential. And don’t we all want to be the best that we can possibly be?
You might ask, how do I know what my greatest potential is? It’s by asking ‘What is God calling me to be?’. Throughout our lives we must ask the same question at different junctures, “What is God calling me to now and how can I best achieve that call that God has placed upon me?” Maybe, just maybe you’ll need to drop the net to follow Jesus into a deeper and clearer path. A path of forgiveness, hope, healthy living and relationships, the path of devoted discipleship. Let go. Drop the net. Follow Jesus.
A former Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor of mine gave a blessing at the end of the program which to me it is reassuring, “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have, and step into the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: there will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”
Dropping the nets to follow Jesus means you are walking into the world of unknown, the edge of the light, yes…but knowing that you will land on solid ground or will be taught to fly. And that is faith. That is following Jesus.