Monday, February 08, 2010

1 Corinthians and Luke

Today's sermon was a midrash, or an "imaginative retelling" of Luke 4 and 5. I imagined I was a resident of Capernaum who observed the call of Simon, James, and John.

A fishing story:
You want to hear a fish story?
I remember that day Simon, the bully of Bethsaida, took that wandering prophet out in his boat to let him preach from it.

He had come once before, and had been welcomed by Simon. Simon usually gathered the largest men and went out to meet any newcomers in town, in case they were zealots or soldiers. But this man had come alone, and Simon had heard of him. He was a healer and a prophet—so he invited him to stay at his own home, where his mother in law was suffering from a fever. That night, the man rebuked the fever, and it immediately went away.

As soon as word had gotten around about Simon’s mother-in-law, everyone brought their sick and ailing to see the man named Jesus. I remember how everyone crowded around Simon’s house, and his daughters tried to organize everyone into groups small enough not to overwhelm the saint. This went on through the night, and he healed all of them, and then slipped away at dawn to be alone in the wilderness. When a group of us found him, he told us that he was going on to preach in more places.

So when he returned one morning, just as the fishermen were cleaning their nets from an unsuccessful night on the lake, everyone gathered around and wanted to hear what he had to say. Sound echoes well over the water. Every fisherman knows you don’t speak with your partners about things you don’t want to get out while you are fishing. Voices just seem to carry over the water, don’t they?. This day, I didn’t have to listen closely for the words of that man. They danced out over the water, and the lake itself seemed to stop lapping at the shore and listen attentively.

The man spoke for awhile about how the Lord was not some far off and aloof God, but was right there with us. He said that God wanted to be known to all of us a child knows his father, and that God wanted to be trusted. Then he told Simon to row out to the deeper water. Seeing him tell Simon what to do made me chuckle to myself. I’d never seen anyone do that before! Usually, Simon stormed around town telling everyone else what to do! He was larger than all the other men in town, and he was persuasive in ways that go beyond words. But, Simon obeyed the strange man.

Then, even though he had already folded his nets and finished for the day, I saw him throwing out the nets again. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they hauled up a catch so big it seemed as though the nets were about to snap! James and John, who were known as the “sons of thunder” because they were also large and commanding young men whom Simon had chosen as partners and everyone thought as future sons-in-law, since Simon only had daughters, were standing on the shore, dumbstruck by the prophet’s words. When they saw the full net, they leaped into their boat and rowed out to help with the haul.

Two boatfuls of beautiful fish shining in a new day’s sunlight weighed down the two boats so low that water actually started seeping over the tops of them. Waterlogged, it took the boats three times as long to bring the boats to shore as usual. When they got the boats to shore, Simon was weeping. I had never seen him shed a tear! There wasn’t a single stray catfish in the haul. (We would have had to throw the catfish back, as we are prohibited by the Law from eating them.) All of them were beautiful tilapia, which after that day we started calling by the name “Simon’s Fish,” and then when Jesus gave him a new name, “Peter’s Fish.”

Simon stumbled out of the boat, and made a plea to everyone there, “forgive me for how I’ve wronged you. Forgive my impatience and my temper and my haughtiness. At these words, James and John fell to their knees as well and joined in the prayer. Jesus stood in the boat, with the fish flopping around at his feet. He said, “Today these men bring in plentiful fish, but I am going to make them fish for people. Care for their families while they are gone. They will return, and you will have the chance to follow too.” Then, he turned to Simon and his brother Andrew and James and John and said, “Come, follow me.”

And they did! They left the fish and the boats and their homes and followed him. I looked at Simon’s wife Ruth, expecting her to be frantic, but she was peaceful. Ever since he had healed her mother, Ruth had spoken of Jesus with reverence. She looked as serene and joyful that day on the beach as she’d been that night, laughing and darting around the room serving the guests with her newly rejuvenated mother.

I wondered what would become of Simon and our town. I wondered if I would go if Jesus had called me. I wondered all of these things, because later that man who seemed so glorious and powerful in that boat would be nailed up on a cross and left to hang and die. Simon Peter would tell everyone who listened that he had seen him in the flesh after his death, but I never saw him again. And so I wonder, because his voice still echoes in my ears, and he seemed to be speaking to me when he said, “Come, Follow me.” .

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