I will make you fishers of people.Sermon: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany.
Reading: Matthew 4:12-23
Jesus chose fishermen. Why? Any idea?
I don’t know, but as I have worked and meditated on this reading I have wondered if it was to make the point that it’s not what you know – your education or qualifications or abilities – that makes you an effective fisher of people, but who you know – in this case, the who being Jesus.
With this well known phrase from Matthew’s Gospel – “I will make you fishers of men” – we often grab first those distinctive words “fishers of men” as the key. But that is not the first thing Jesus calls these men to do. He says first of all, “Follow me”. It is through this following, this apprenticeship, that these men become fishers of people. They become Jesus’ disciples, his students.
And they do need to learn. Fishing requires patience and skill and commitment. Catching souls for Christ is like this too – we need to learn our skills and do our homework and build up our experience. We need to know Jesus and His Word and be able to express it. You can’t share what you don’t have yourself.
We all need to be students of the Bible. We need to grow in our relationship with Christ. These disciples after all had to spend three years with Jesus as their rabbi, their teacher. They needed to be taught and shown. They had to exercise the discipline of listening. They asked questions. Their values and ideas were challenged. And this is what Jesus calls us into as well.
Jesus says: I will make you. It has to do directly with what Jesus does with us – how he forms us as his fishermen.
But, you know, there’s another side to this too; a balancing truth. The fisherman has no ultimate control over the success of his fishing expedition. If you have ever fished much, you know that highly expert and experienced fishermen still can, and often do, come home with little to show for their efforts. The fisherman has to do his best, and then cast out his nets or bait his hook in faith – trusting to providence, not even knowing if the fish are there or if they are biting.
Fishers of people cast out their nets in faith too. Ultimately it will be Jesus who makes us fishers of people – in the sense also that it is he who brings the people to us, just as he brought the fish into Peter’s net in the story in Luke 5. It is Jesus who gives us the people and the right things to say and do to help them in their faith journey. It is Jesus who provides the catch.
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” These words apply not only to the disciples whom he calls here by the lakeside. It is clear from elsewhere in Scripture that these words also apply more broadly to all Jesus’ followers – pastors, lay people or whatever. These words apply to us, to you.
So are you fishing for people? This is where many of us feel that we fall down, or that we could never be involved in evangelism or outreach – the very mention of those words scares people to death.
Well, let me tell you something. Maybe you are fishing for souls without even realising it.
You don’t’ have to go door knocking or preaching in Flinders Street station. You may not have to even leave your home or go looking for the fish. They may be swimming right past your eyes already, and already you are reaching out to them.
I know many of our members witness to their children or their grandchildren, in a host of big and small ways. You are fishing for their souls.
Those of you who volunteer for the community meal are reaching out and serving in the name of Christ – those people who come know who we are, and why we do it. Our service to them is a living active statement of Christ’s love.
In Mary’s circle, the message of God’s grace in Christ is lived out and spoken about to all kinds of women from inside and outside the Knox church community.
Those of you who pray for others that they might come to faith or be renewed in their faith are fishers of souls.
And maybe there are some other untapped possibilities too – friendships where you can share your faith in small but powerful ways. I know a person who is a Christian today because when she was going through a really tough time somebody said to her at one point, “I am praying for you”. That was the hook.
It is interesting that the Christian who said those words was fishing in faith – they didn’t know what would happen, but they trusted in Jesus. And what does Jesus say? “I will make you fishers of people.” He will honour our faith in him, and do what he says, and send his Holy Spirit to work, even through us.
There are many ways and means and opportunities to fish for souls. And these words of Jesus remind us to make the most of them, to recognize that he has sent us with a purpose, on a mission – yes, each one of us individually and together as the church.
He calls us to continue being his students – learning, listening and growing in his truth and love – that we might get better at it. And these words assure us that it isn’t us who have to somehow save others. Jesus himself will provide the catch. “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”