EPIPHANY 3, January 24th, 2021
In the Name..
A few years ago, on the Sunday when this text was appointed, a preacher got into his pulpit and spoke the words, "Follow me." He then left the pulpit and walked midway down the aisle. He repeated the words and, with a confused congregation shuffling behind him, walked out the door and around the church grounds before returning to the pulpit and saying "Amen". That's one way to get out of a sermon.
Well, we’ve had a presidential inauguration and one of the first things that any president does at the beginning of an administration is get his cabinet in place, his closest advisors and co-workers who will help him accomplish his agenda and share his tasks. Every president has certain criteria by which he chooses those people; qualifications which he expects them to have. And today's Gospel shows us Jesus choosing his cabinet, or at least his first appointees. So, we may ask, what qualifications does he set?
"Follow me, and I will make you fish for people". We know it better as the poetic, "I will make you fishers of men", but, either way, he describes three qualities, three qualifications which are encapsulated in that short phrase. The members of Jesus' cabinet are to be trusting, teachable, and task-oriented. Trusting, teachable, and task-oriented.
To respond to the call "Follow me" is an act of trust. None of us is going to follow someone we don't trust even in some vague sense. And trust also brings out, in us, the virtues of loyalty and confidence. I've been around people for whom I felt trust, loyalty, and confidence. If they had said "Let's go", I would have. No questions asked. I've also been around people I wouldn't follow down the hall if they paid me. And haven't we all? Jesus is looking for those who will respond to him in trust.
Jesus also chooses those who are willing to learn, who are teachable. He says I will teach you how to fish for people. Fishing is a good image here because it's not something you learn in an afternoon or on the internet. It's something you learn hands-on over time, over a lifetime, and Jesus promises a lifelong learning process.
It's often been noted that Jesus started with twelve very ordinary men. There wasn't a Bible scholar or university graduate among them. But, what he wanted was people who had little to unlearn. Very often, those of us who have learned a lot, have also picked up some bad habits or entrenched ways of thinking. New ideas can be hard for us to accept. We have our paradigms. Actually, Jesus probably would have had a tough time teaching Peter to improve on his fish-catching technique, but, he could teach him something completely different. He could teach him how to become a shepherd and lead the church.
And, thirdly, Jesus wants people who are task-oriented, people who are doers. Jesus knew how labour intensive fishing is. It is a science and an art. Without a balance between knowledge and intuition, the nets come up empty. Perhaps, Jesus called fishermen first of all because they depended for their lives on these qualities. If they didn't get a catch, everyone went hungry. They knew the importance of applying themselves to their work - of carefully gauging winds, tides, and smells; of long hours when ordinary people were in bed.
Three qualities, then; trusting, teachable and task-oriented. The qualities by which President Jesus chooses his cabinet.
On the other hand, by presuming to say, "Follow me", Jesus is committing himself to behave in a certain way, as well. By asking people to work for him, he is making certain promises to those who respond. One of these is to be a model. One reason that presidents and other leaders run into problems is that they often come to expect everything from their staffs, but, provide nothing in return. Jesus is promising his followers that he will be a model upon whom they can rely.
And he also agrees, since he is looking for teachable men, that he will teach. He's not just going to sit back with his feet up and let us founder about. Nor is he going to set ridiculous, unattainable goals. The goals may be difficult, but, they will be attainable, and he will be there to guide and encourage and show us how to do them.
And thirdly, in choosing men who are doers, Jesus commits himself to be a manager of their tasks. A good manager is like a good orchestra conductor. He doesn't try to do the jobs of his musicians, but, he knows his people well enough to know their limits and potential and how to bring them all into a harmony. If he pushes them to fail, they feel frustrated. If he fails to stretch them, they do not grow.
Three other qualities, then; model, mentor, and manager. The qualities by which Jesus promises to lead the trusting, teachable, and task-oriented who enter his service.
In this nation, it's considered an honour to be asked to serve in a presidential cabinet. Governors will resign their states, congressmen will give up chairmanships of important committees, and business executives will leave seven or eight figure salaries, and for what? To serve for, at most, a few short years. And why? Because it is an honour to serve in a president's cabinet. An honour which makes people change their lifestyles and move to Washington. Well, it is a greater honour, by far, to serve in Jesus' cabinet, an honour which should encourage us to change our lifestyles and plan a move to his capital city.
The President of the United States has about two dozen men and women in his cabinet. How many does Jesus have? If you think 12, you're off by a few billion. Sure, Jesus started with 12, but, the fact is that every Christian is, in fact, a member of his cabinet. Every Christian should be trusting, teachable, and task-oriented. Every Christian should be casting nets, fishing for men, and Jesus promises to be a model, mentor, and manager to each and every one of us.
In four years, the term of Joe Biden will come to an end and many of those who serve him today won't be part of the next administration even if he's re-elected. If he loses, none of them will be. The term of Jesus, however, is without end and that's the kind of job security no employer on earth can provide.
Jesus said, "Follow me". So let's do it. Let's trust him as our model, be willing to be taught new things, and apply ourselves to the work at hand.
In the Name...