We’re starting this week exploring the very first step of Bishop Curry’s “Way of love”. There are seven steps: turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, rest. And so, today, we are invited to start our journey by “Turning” “Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus”. In this context, I found it very interesting the lectionary picks this passage from Luke’s where Jesus calls the disciples to become “fishers of men” with him. I find this pick interesting because when I am asked to “turn to Jesus”, the images that come to my mind are images of repentance – Turning to Jesus to ask for forgiveness for my sins. This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel – when John the Baptist calls the people to repentance – a significant part of our readings during Lent and Advent, in these Church seasons when we are asked to draw closer to God. “Conversion” actually means to change directions, to turn back because we realize that we are on the wrong path. This is this understanding we have in our collect today: “Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts”. For all those reasons, as I was thinking about the Gospel we have just heard, I was surprised to discover that turning away from sin is not at the center of Bishop Curry’s call to turn to Jesus. According to Bishop Curry, turning to Jesus is not so much for repentance than it should be doing what flowers do when they turn towards the sun for light and nourishment. We turn towards the source of life. This image speaks to me deeply. I have many plants at home and not enough light, so they often grow in strange ways, bend on one side or the other, depends on where I place them by the windows, and as I keep moving them around, some of those plants become all twisted because they are so thirsty for light. Well now, when I look at them, I wonder if I have this same longing for Jesus that would make me look for him in every directions.
Our lack of longing for Jesus – maybe this is the first thing we need to work on to walk the way of love. I don’t know what you think, but I have a sense that in this world – unless something serious really bothers us – we don’t generally carry a painful awareness of our sins. Most of the time, we are just not that interested in the things related to faith. We have our routine, we’re caught in our everyday lives, distracted. Well, I think this is also the place where the disciples are today. In our text, it is said that the crowd is pressing on Jesus to hear the word of God, and yet, when Jesus sits in the boat to teach, the disciples (who aren’t yet the disciples) are busy wrapping up their day of work, cleaning their nets. They are not listening to Jesus.
They are not listening to Jesus not because they are terrible people busy doing bad things, they are just, like most of us, caught in their everyday business, and probably, their preoccupations and worries. As we learn a little further, they haven’t caught any fish and on that day. They were probably wondering how they were going to feed their families. We can almost picture the scene. Jesus is in the boat teaching, and the “disciples to be” are on the shore, turning their backs, lost in their thoughts as they pack up their material. Well, I have a sense that a lot of us can identify with that. You know, we often hear that the disease of our world is our distraction, because we want to have fun and to be entertained, we spend hours on social medias and so on, and there is something true about that. But I think that, more deeply, we are distracted because we are worried about our own lives. It’s not only bad and superficial things that keep us apart from God, there are also a lot of good and important things that can make us miss the presence of God in our lives: our everyday business, our desire to provide for our family, to plan for the future…All of that is very necessary, but the sad part is that we can spend our whole life going on like this – not realizing that something extraordinary could happen to us, not realizing that Jesus is right there to be found, if we would just turn to him.
Because what the Gospel teaches us is that God is not an invisible and mysterious spirit but a God who is among us and one of us. Jesus is the God who comes to us in the midst of our daily lives. And so, turning is not about looking up to the sky and become all pure and holy. It’s about stopping to be so wrapped on ourselves, on our worries and our struggles. As the disciples today, we are all invited to: “Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus”. You know, I am wondering if on that day Simon was not just thinking: “Well, this all seems very interesting, I guess I will listen to this Jesus when I have time, when I have less to think about” – It’s often where we are, right? We’ll pray when we have time, we’ll do something for God when we get a chance, yes, at some point, we will make a change…Well, the Gospel reminds us today that the change is for right now.
Yet, if the change is for now, Luke’s version of the call of the disciples is different from Mark’s when the disciples leave everything right away, at their first encounter with Jesus. Here it takes them a little more time and I think it’s more realistic. In Luke’s version, we learn that Simon already knew Jesus, that he is actually staying at his house. And so in this Gospel, it’s not like the disciples stop suddenly caring about the everyday things that are important to them as soon as they meet Jesus. But by the miracle of the fish, Jesus shows the disciples that their daily lives are in God’s hands, and so they are freed to become more than what they believed they were meant to be. From the ordinary life of fishing fish, they are called to God’s mission of fishing men. Well maybe, like the disciples, we need to learn that we can trust God with the things that worry us, instead of holding on to them. Then, reassured, we can raise our heads and turn towards what God wants to give us.
This does not go without disruptions of course. Turning to God is never simple. It breaks with our comfort, our habits, the world as we know it. I like it that the Gospel mentions that the nets were about to break, and that it felt like the boat was sinking. Sometimes good news are hard to bear, and the good news of the Gospel is not always easy to carry out. When God breaks in, everything can be put into question in our lives and in the way we understand ourselves. God changes the image we have of ourselves, of the person we think we are: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”. As he understands who Jesus really is, not only a wise teacher but a man inhabited by the presence of God who can change his life – Simon is tempted to look back, to cling to the one he has always been: “A sinful man”. This expression does not necessarily describes somebody who does bad things, it’s more about a social status: People who do not belong to the aristocracy of the religious ones, ordinary men, blue collars, those who had no specific skills or insights. How often, like Simon, we are deep down convinced that we are not called to anything greater than our routine? It can be humility, but it can also be a way of hiding from God. We need to move beyond our feelings of unworthiness to be able to turn from ourselves, from our daily occupations, from being caught in our own nets, to turn to Jesus and open up to God’s plans.
Because it’s not about who we are – yes, of course, we are unworthy and sinners, Paul reminds us today we are only clay jars– but we have to trust that God is bigger than that, it’s not about who we are, it’s about what Jesus can do of us, can do with us. Jesus calls the disciples to become “fisher of men”, and it is an image that should really speak to us those days we hear about so many flooding. Because when you fish fish, take them out of the waters, it kills them and you eat them or sell them for your benefit. But when you take a man out of the waters, you save his life. Jesus calls us to be, with him, life givers in a world where death is the ultimate horizon. We are freed not only for ourselves, we are freed to bring the message of love, hope and liberation of Jesus. We are not meant to be slaves of every day life, we meant to be the sons and daughters of eternal life.
Turn. Not so such because there are so many bad things to leave behind, but because there are so many good things to be found in God and shared in community.
I love Moses’ example of turning. Moses was busy doing his business, because you know, he also had a family to feed and he had the humble responsibility of taking care of his father in law’s sheep, but in the meantime he opened his eyes, he was curious, he wanted to know more and to understand, and so he came close to the burning bush. And because he came closer to God, his life – not only his life but the life of all the Hebrew people – were changed in such a dramatic and unbelievable way. Starting this week, maybe we can work on taking our first step on the way of love by looking around, working on our curiosity for God, see what catches us into God’s net, what catches out attention and catches our hearts. Maybe starting this week, we can work on our thirst, our longing for God, as plants thirst for light. Maybe starting this week, we can work on our open-mindedness in everyday life, in the midst of our routine, believing that God is up to something, that God is there to be found in the midst of it all. Amen.