Dropping the Nets that Entangle

         Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Gospel makes no practical sense. There, beside the Sea of Galilee, you had Simon and his brother Andrew doing what fisherman do, that is, fish. Fishing was their livelihood. It’s how they fed their families, not only from the fish themselves but from selling the surplus in the local market. Folks in the market would know Simon and Andrew to be brothers in business together. They were hard workers. They were fair with their pricing, and persons respected them. Another generation of family fishers was James and John. Their father, Zebedee, and perhaps his father before him made their living from fishing. They’re discovered in their boat alongside their father and hired men, all mending their nets. Were Zebedee and his sons wealthier than Simon and Andrew because of the mentioning of their boat and nets, or did Simon and Andrew discard boats, preferring the shallow shoreline to the deep waters? Regardless, they all were fishermen, and fishing is what they did. Fishing was a part of their vocational identity. It is unconscionable that they would be anything more than this, and yet, life happens when we least expect it – Like waking from a deep sleep our eyes open. We look back on our old, slumbering selves and forward to a bright reality wondering how we ever fell asleep in the first place. How could we be sleeping for so long? The question disappears like a breath as we turn and face a new dawn, eyes wide open towards hope. Hope springs eternal as eternity speaks a word. Surprisingly, it’s not a word of inspiration. It’s not some credulous maxim to believe in yourself. It’s not a song to say you are beautiful in every single way. Saying such things just keeps us comfortably asleep. No, the spoken word creates new life, awakens the dreamer, and shocks the practical. The word is “Repent.” “Repent” is the first action verb of the first line of Jesus’ preaching ministry. It’s not practical but personal. It’s not respectable but relational. It doesn’t alienate but aligns. It’s not easy, it’s hard. St. Jerome once wrote, “The sweetness of the apple makes up for the bitterness of the root. The hope of gain makes pleasant the perils of the sea. The expectation of health mitigates the nauseousness of medicine. One who desires the kernel breaks the nut. So one who desires the joy of a holy conscience swallows down the bitterness of penance.”

         “Repent” was the first action verb of the first sentence of Jesus’ ministry. “Follow,” was the first word of the second sentence in Jesus’ ministry. For Simon and Andrew, repentance was imagined as nets dropping out of the fishermen’s hands. We may also note that they did not release the nets reluctantly, but “immediately” is how the scripture described it for us. Notice too that their nets were empty. Does this represent a lost cause, a hunger that needs filling, a forgotten longing? “For God alone, my soul in silence waits,” the Psalmist reminds us today. “Truly, my hope is in him,” it continues. Was it this Jesus for whom the soul had been waiting? Was he hope and the spring eternal enfleshed? Knowing and yet somehow unknowing the answer, they left their nets and followed him down the shoreline to find men who were just like them – men they knew needed the one whom they were now faithfully following. Like Simon and Andrew before them, now it’s James and John’s turn to leave their livelihood to discover Life. Leave their earthly father to follow their spiritual one. Leave their empty nets in need of repair. Little did these fishermen know that God had captured them in his net only to be rereleased – not into the uncertainties of the sea but into the mysteries of love.

         If this story is not a story for our lives right now, then I don’t know what it is? This past year’s collective tragedies have made us all reconsider our vocations, values, and beliefs. Like the first disciples, we have discovered empty nets collecting nothing but air. Many of our institutions are like torn nets we never realized needed repairing. Closets have opened, revealing skeletons. Mirrors tilted toward ourselves, and we didn’t like what we saw. Nature abhors a vacuum, so political and cultural ideologies crept in undercover, promising certainty. Certainty morphed into cult, cult into mob, mob into physical and psychological violence, disdain, cancellation, and corruption. These nets, although profitable, are still spiritually empty.

I would argue the nets cannot be mended but must be dropped altogether. “Repent,” and “Follow,” the One who calls us each by name. Come to him if you’re weak and heavy burdened. He will give you rest. He will lighten the load. His name is Jesus. We know this, but at the time, Simon and Andrew did not. He’s the savior of the world. We profess this, but James and John could not have known. He’s your savior, my savior, their savior, the world’s savior coming into the world to untangle the net of sin and mend the net of death that separates. Right now, today, and this week pray to God for the grace to “answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ, and to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.”

Found and Found Out

Luke 2:41-52

Today’s Gospel story is a story of mission, and its undertaking has consequences that effect humanity and divinity alike. God’s mission takes the form of an incarnational one. It discerns real vocation and pursues plain purpose. It beckons us to remember God in familiar places, but cries out to us in the wilderness of our lives to rediscover Him in unconventional ways. “Look for me here, instead of there,” that still, small voice of a 12-year-old boy might sing. When we say ‘yes’ to God’s direction, we act like His Mother: there’s a lot to ponder, hearts will be pierced, but in our own wreckage we discover the One who would be broken for us all. This is good news as it shows God’s trustworthiness over and against our own.

In many Bibles, today’s reading is sometimes labeled as “The Boy Jesus in the Temple.” It’s an honest, yet surface-level reading of the text. If I was to rename the headline, it might read, “God Invites Us to Join in His Mission,” or at the very least, and to quote The Blues Brothers, “We’re on a Mission from God.” Initially, there were two missions happening. One, Jesus’ parents were on a mission to find him. Two, Jesus’ mission is to be found and found out.

The first mission had Mary discovering Jesus in the Temple, waiting to be found out. The scripture reminds us that she treasured his [mission] within her very heart. What may have started out as two missions quickly began coalescing into one as she grasped her role to play in the great Theo-drama of God. Before this marriage of missions, however, she and Joseph searched for Jesus among their caravan of friends and relatives. Ultimately, they not finding him there. We may pause and ask, “Is their seeking Jesus among friends and family a form of discernment?” Is it not our friends and family who oftentimes help in our sensitivity of where God is and where God isn’t? I find comfort in the fact that even though their friends and family had insufficient answers for Mary and Joseph, their presence alongside the Holy Family allowed them to get a little closer to where the mission of God would ultimately turn out to be.

The second mission invites us into contemplation and discernment about the mission of God. Jesus, the text reminds us, was puzzled over his parents’ anxiety and scolding, but through these Mary and Joseph discovered something about discernment. Perhaps their trepidation was a test and a trial for everyone involved? Through their suffering and losses they found deeper respect and relationship for and with God. Put theologically, Mary and Joseph not only discovered their son, but uncovered the Son of God. Again, the Son of God allowed himself to be found and found out. In doing so, Jesus invited his parents into intimate communion where words fall short, but hearts expand.

Finally, Jesus was in conversation with his Heavenly Father about what his mission was and will be. This required a few things from him. He was to sit and pray; ask questions, and listen. Put simply, he was to contemplative the things of God. In his contemplation there in the Temple, he received his mission. From there, he returned to Nazareth accompanied by his parents, being obedient to them as well as to his Heavenly Father. (The paradox being that God is the one who accompanies us, both within our obedience and disobedience). Once his (read here our) priorities and mission were/are in order was when he/us may “increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

This little story has a lot to say to us at the beginning of a new year, if not for the rest of our lives. It’s now 2021. In 2020, we were a lot like Mary and Joseph. We discovered that we can lose and lose out when we take gifts of God for granted. We falsely believed that God wants us to be more comfortable, fall in line with selfish status quos, and feast – day in and day out. This was and remains a false conviction because God is calling us to mission. Part of the mission is discovering God over and over again in places familiar and not so much. Like a child, God plays hide-and-seek just waiting to be found and found out. Like a lover, He wants us to remember him by remembering who we are – in him. It’s more intimacy than falling in line. Remember, Mary and Joseph were in line to go home! This is where they could have gone, would have gone, and maybe even should have gone. They did not. No, Mary and Joseph turned around. They went against the crowd. They did call on their friends and family from within the crowd for answers for a time, but discovered those answers ultimately fell short. They didn’t need answers. They needed The Answer, and so they went to church. They got The Answer. Then they went back home. While at home and in their daily lives they never took God for granted again. Like a child, they got giddy anytime Jesus wanted to play hide-and-seek because they knew that all God ever wanted/wants is to be found and found out. Their mission now collapsed into God’s mission, and they were forever changed.

How has God changed you through the inconveniences, disruptions, and losses of 2020? What will you never take for granted again, or when you do, turn around and go back to him? Christmas reminds us that everything changes with the birth of Jesus, and we’re able to experience that change when we do as he does. When we sit and pray; ask questions, and listen at church, in our homes, and in our daily lives. This year may we all discover (and perhaps rediscover) the mission of God on earth as it is in heaven.