Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 18, 2017
Romans 2:10-16; Matthew 4:18-23
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
With these words in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 4, Jesus summons His first two disciples—Simon Peter and Andrew. They are brothers. He saw them casting their fishing net into the sea of Galilee, and He says this to them: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The Scripture then says that He saw two more brothers—James and John. They were also fishermen, in a boat with their father Zebedee, and they were stitching together their fishing net, which had been torn by hauling in fish. Jesus calls them, too. We don’t know from this passage what words He used with this pair, but we can imagine He may have said the same thing: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
And the Bible says of both these pairs of brothers that, when they heard that call, they immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. Jesus called them, and they followed Him.
And He said that He was going to give them a new vocation entirely. They would become “fishers of men.” And what does Matthew’s Gospel next say? “And He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.”
So why does it say that? Is it just what happened next? Yes, it is what happened next, but it is also Jesus immediately taking these four men, these two pairs of brothers, and beginning their education. This is how you cast your net not for fish but for men and women and children. He goes all around Galilee where they were. And what does He do? He teaches in their synagogues, getting right into the heart of their community life, their context. He preaches the gospel of the Kingdom—His own Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven. And He heals every disease and every infirmity among the people.
Follow Me, Peter and Andrew. Follow Me, James and John. I will make you fishers of men. And this is how you do it.
We have spent the past four months, all the way since the middle of February, journeying with Jesus toward His cross and death, experiencing the power of His mighty resurrection from the tomb, and then seeing Him ascend into Heaven and send down His Holy Spirit. And last week we capped it all off with the feast of All Saints, celebrating the glory of God that shows in His saints when they respond in faith.
And now here we are, and it’s time to take everything we have seen and heard, everything we have learned and experienced, everything we have repented of and repented toward, everything we have been blessed with, and it’s time to become fishers of men. It’s time.
We have heard the call of Jesus Christ. We may be like Peter and Andrew, casting our nets into the sea—the nets of our jobs, the nets of our studies, the nets of our relationships, the nets of our marriages, the nets of our hopes and dreams—and we’re looking for some kind of return. But then we hear the call of Jesus Christ, and He says, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He doesn’t disparage Peter and Andrew’s lives, but He’s giving them something higher now. The same is true for us.
We have heard the call of Jesus Christ. We may be like James and John, mending the broken nets of our relationships and our jobs and our studies and our marriages and our hopes and dreams, trying to knit them back together where they have come undone. We may be in the middle of something, something painful and difficult, something that is going to take a lot of work to get back together. But then we hear the call of Jesus: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Follow Me, because I didn’t come to knit back together your broken lives but to give you new life. Follow Me, because it’s time to transcend even your sorrows and pain. Follow Me, because what you were trying to create for yourself may be good, but I have something better, something that you were meant for, that I meant for you. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
So how do we do this? How do we follow Him and become fishers of men? He shows us, just like He showed those four men.
First, notice that “He went about all Galilee.” He explored the place where they were. He did not sit in their homes or their comfort zones and expect these fish to come to Him. That’s not how you fish for people. He went all about that place, that place that was their home. He made it His own place. He put His presence everywhere in it.
And that is what we also are called to do, to go all about our own places, all about Emmaus, all about the Lehigh Valley, all about Eastern Pennsylvania or wherever we are in our relationships and jobs and studies and lives. We go all about them, both literally and figuratively. We put ourselves out there. We go and find those fish. We don’t wait for them to come to us.
I’ve seen some videos of fish literally jumping into the boats of fishermen. It was an amazing sight. But that’s not usually how fishing works. You have to get out there on the water or stand next to that shore or stand on that coral reef or go wherever you need to go to get those fish. And that’s how it is when we become fishers of men. We have to go get them, go find those who will be caught into the net of the gospel of the Kingdom.
Next, the Gospel tells us that Jesus taught in their synagogues and preached the gospel of the Kingdom. He went right into the heart of their communities and taught them the truth. And what is that truth? It is the gospel of the Kingdom. Notice it’s not the gospel of church membership or the gospel of social activism or the gospel of a club designed to preserve a cultural or clan identity. It’s also not the gospel of my ego or your ego. It’s the gospel of the Kingdom.
We go into the hearts of those in our own Galilee, wherever or whatever that may be, and we bring the message of Jesus in all of its simplicity of power and also in all of its complexity of application.
And notice He goes into the synagogues. That’s the place where they’re teaching what we think of now as the Old Testament. That’s the place that already has a context for His message. That’s the place where there is something for Him to point to and say to them: Do you see? Do you see this truth you already believe? Here, now, I will give you the rest. And that is our strategy, too, as fishers of men. We listen and find the truth that someone already believes, that interest or attachment they already have, their own “synagogue,” so to speak, and we show them how that leads them to Jesus.
Then finally the Scripture says that He also went about “healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.” He did not merely tell them the truth, but He ministered to them. We may not be able to perform miraculous cures like Jesus, but we can heal the diseases of their broken hearts, their broken homes, their broken marriages, their broken friendships, their broken souls. We can bring them love. We don’t have to bring them expertise that we do not have, but we can bring them love. We all have love, because we all have experienced God’s love.
Now, you may be asking this question: Why? Why should I even want to become a fisher of men? Isn’t that just for the Apostles? I would rather keep throwing my net into the sea of my life. I would rather keep trying to mend the brokenness that I have in my life for myself. I can handle this without dropping everything. Can’t I just visit Jesus? Do I really have to follow Him? Do I really have to become a fisher of men? Why?
Here is the reason, brothers and sisters. Here is the secret of why we are all called to become fishers of men and women and children: This is what salvation is actually all about.
Salvation is becoming like Jesus! Salvation is joining the mission of Jesus! We become fishers of men because we want to be saved. There is no salvation without it.
We say every Sunday and (I hope) every day in our prayers that we “believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Notice that last adjective there: apostolic. We call the Church “apostolic” because it comes from the Apostles, yes, but why were they called “apostles”? What does that word mean? It means “those who are sent out.” An apostle is someone sent out.
And that means that this Church which is the Body of Jesus Christ Himself has been sent out. We have been sent out. This is our calling, our vocation, our purpose. We are apostolic. We are sent out.
To do what? To become fishers of men. We may not need to set aside our earthly professions or relationships to become a fisher of men the way the Apostles did. But some of us do need to! Some of us really are called to leave everything else behind in the most literal fashion. Perhaps God is calling you to become a fisher of men by becoming a full-time missionary. Or by becoming a bishop or priest or deacon. Or by becoming a monk or nun. Or by becoming a full-time vocational minister of some other kind in the Church.
But even if that is not your profession, it it still your vocation. That word vocation means “calling.” Every one of us is called to that apostolic mission of becoming fishers of men. We are all called to go out, to teach and to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, and to bring healing to the diseases and infirmities of those whom God has sent us to. Maybe you can do that while still keeping your existing profession or relationships. Or maybe you have to set that aside. Some do.
But, however you get there, you’ve still got to do it. You’ve still got to fish for men and women and boys and girls, drawing them into the net of Jesus Christ, drawing them into His holy Church, drawing them into the highest and best and most profound and meaningful kind of life that any human being could ever hope for, even beyond anything that we could hope for.
He has said to you, to me, to anyone who hears my voice today: “Follow Me.” And He has said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” And He showed us how to do it. And now He expects us to join Him in His great mission.
To the Master Fisherman Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.