Thursday 8 September 2022

They that go down to the sea in ships (Psalm 107:23)

Three of the four gospels tell a similar story of how Jesus called his first disciples. They were fisherman, Jesus saw them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he told them to follow him and, together, they’ll fish for people.

Each telling of the story has its own uniqueness, but Luke’s version is quite a bit more elaborate. Luke tells that Jesus, with a large crowd wanting to hear him, sees that the fishermen are done for the day so he asks to borrow one of their boats. They put out a bit from shore and he teaches the crowd from there. When he’s done, he tells Simon to go out one more time to the deeper water and they find a huge catch of fish. Others come to help and, when they get to shore, Jesus says “don’t be afraid, from now on we’re going to catch people.”

That’s the obvious takeaway here: Jesus calls the first disciples. It’s literally the heading in most translations. I’ll get there next week, but first, I’d like to take a moment and wonder about how this story gets started. Jesus teaches from a boat.

Jesus teaches - and preaches, heals, ministers and socializes - in a lot of places. That he chooses the work vehicle of the very people who will be the first ones invited to follow him resonates with me. I wonder about a few things that prompt me to ask questions.

I wonder, for example, what Jesus was teaching here. “The word of God,” Luke says. Yes, but how did he communicate that? Jesus seems to be able to communicate with people wherever they are. Did he tell some fishing parables? Was there, perhaps, a version of the “mustard seed” story that used a minnow instead or something about the abundance of love that comes with going deeper that segued into that demonstration with Simon?

I wonder about the boat itself. There’s nothing to suggest Jesus knew anything about fish or boats or the sea. And yet, he seems to fearlessly step out into one and speak to people on the shore from it. Was he hoping Simon and the others would see that he wasn’t afraid to step into their lives so that they might not be afraid to join his?

And, again with the boat, I wonder that Jesus sat and taught in a vessel that’s meant to be out on the open water. I presume it was kept stationary so people weren’t running up and down the shore. But then, think about it: he gathers his first “ship mates,” steps off the boat on to dry land, and “sets sail” in his ministry. That’s one powerful boating experience.

Here, at the beginning of a new season, those couple of verses remind me to reflect on some important aspects of ministry. No, more than ministry: how we live our lives.

How are we communicating with each other? Are we finding common ground, respecting each other and building relationships? Are we remembering that, when Jesus says “don’t be afraid” he means “it’s okay to be scared - you’re not alone. I’m here.”

And what kind of boat are we building anyway? The church isn’t meant to be anchored in our buildings, it’s meant to set sail into our communities and into our lives. What Jesus taught didn’t stay in one place, it was blown by the wind and carried by the water out into the world. From the depths of all our hearts, there’s an abundance of love to be carried into our lives and into all the lives we touch, looking for a place to land.