It is really pretty simple. Just two steps: 1). Drop your nets and 2). follow Jesus. That’s it. The reading this morning makes it all seem sooooo easy, soooo “of course” this is what we should do. Dropping nets is exactly what the disciples would do in response to meeting Jesus, right? We have come expect no other response. Come on! Let us follow Jesus!
Four years ago, I stood along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where the fishing families in the Bible narrative worked over 2,000 years ago. Peter and Andrew. James and John. I can imagine their wood boats. Their hand tied nets. The long hours and overnight work (John 21). Fishing was frequently a third shift jobs that… sometimes… resulted in large, heavy loads of fish being physically hauled into the boat. This was smelly, exhausting, wet work. Experienced hands were calloused. Younger hands likely stung with rope burn. Mornings and days were filled with selling fish, repairing nets, patching boats, only to go out the next night and repeat the process. Other overnight shifts resulted in nothing. No catch. Empty nets. These were long, tedious, hours that tipped the scales toward economic disaster. No fish. No sales. No profits. Then there were those stormy nights, their boat tossed about, threating death as angry waves broke onto the deck. Their very lives were at stake.
Now I have never been on a commercial fishing boat, but John Dominic Crossan reflects “on what was happening to the formerly prosperous fishing villages (along the Sea of Galilee).” In 1986 “a sunken fishing vessel, probably from between 100 BCE and 67 CE (the time frame of today’s story of Jesus calling the disciples)… was discovered during a drought the shrunk the Sea of Galilee and exposed the wreck. What remained of the fishing boat had been patched and patched and patched with different kinds of wood… provide(ing) insight into what happened to the fishers under Roman rule. The boat shows how they fell on hard times and ‘had to nurse their boats for as long as possible.’ These formerly prosperous fishing families were now scraping to keep their boats and their lives together under the ruinous economic practices of Imperial Rome. Crossan argues that Jesus wanted to call disciples who would understand the stark difference between his teaching that ‘the kingdom of God is in your midst” and the kingdom of Caesar being forced on the Jews by imperial Rome.”
It is into this context that Jesus began his ministry. In some way, shape, or form, the arrest of John the baptizer disrupted Jesus’ life—triggered a shift. In Matthew’s retelling, we hear Jesus left his home in Nazareth and walked to Galilee. There, “Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off calling out, “‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here’” (Matthew 4:17, The Message). God’s kingdom is here.
The next Holy Shift in the narrative involved the fishermen. They were people barely scraping by, trying to make a living working off the Sea of Galilee. The hard work of fishing day after day, night after night resulted in an unpredictable livelihood. No wonder dropping their nets and following Jesus seemed like the thing to do that day.
We then turn back to 700(ish) years. 700 years before Jesus and the fishing industry that grows his movement. There we encounter Isaiah’s description of an agricultural economy. Isaiah spoke to another group of people living on the fertile land around the Sea of Galilee. This was a strip of land that had continually seen merchants, travelers… and invading armies… marching through. If we read one verse further in the chapter, we hear Isaiah describing, “… all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood…” (Isaiah 9:5, NRSV). Instead of “nets,” Isaiah proclaims good news that yokes of burden, restrictive bars across people’s shoulders, and the rod of their oppressors will be dropped. It was a different time, but people on the margins in Isaiah’s time were just scraping by, hauling in a different type of economic “net.”
In both times of despair, Isaiah’s and later Jesus’, Holy Disruptions transformed people’s lives.
Of prophets such as Isaiah the Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev writes, “They possessed the wisdom and courage to proclaim the unsustainability of the current order, a reality that others ignored. At the same time, they possessed the vision that enable them to transcend the brokenness of the moment to articulate an alternative society in which all would be well.” All would be, all will be, well. These are words of God’s Holy Inbreaking—an inbreaking that disrupt the status quo.
These are Holy Disruptions which catch us up in the kin-dom of love. Connective, relational disturbances that spread hope among people and communities in despair. What if… just what if we were to drop the nets that weigh us down? Drag on our hope? Our community’s wellbeing? In a society that is tattered and torn, are we ready for God’s Holy Inbreaking? Will we allow Jesus to disrupt our lives?
Because, reading again just a little bit farther in the Bible—this time from Matthew—we learn that right from the start all sorts of people were joining the Jesus movement. The assigned reading ended today at verse 23. But there are 2 additional verses in this chapter. I think they are important for us to hear and understand how radical, and loving, and disruptive Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and healing were to the people who encountered him:
Hear these words from Matthew 4:24-25:
“Word (of Jesus) got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan” (Matt. 4:24-25, The Message).
The momentum was building. Jesus was disrupting lives. Lives of people who had been cast aside by society. This was a movement not only of people who were Jewish, but also people who were “other”—other ethnicities, people with other physical, mental, and/or cognitive abilities—these were the lives that Jesus changed drastically. Lives of despair—transformed.
“Drop your nets, and I will make you fish for… I will have you build relationships with… I will teach you to care for… people.” You, you will begin to meet people where they are. Welcome them for who they are. Love them for the Beloved Child of God whom they are. That was it. THAT was Jesus’ radical idea. Love people.
Yet in reality we know that dropping our own nets, changing the way that we live, welcoming people… all people… people with all of their brokenness, grief life mistakes, physical, cognitive, and mental health concerns, isn’t easy at all. In fact, I’d say that “dropping our nets” to follow Jesus is one of the most difficult things we do as people of faith. Taking a part in the Jesus movement is never easy. Do you remember how the story in today’s reading from Matthew began?
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested… he withdrew…” (Matt. 4:12a).
Jesus withdrew. The original Greek word describing John’s arrest is “paradidomi,” which can be translated as “arrested,” but also as “betrayed.” John was arrested. John was betrayed. John’s movement… was suddenly disrupted. Just imagine all of the feelings expressed by Isaiah long ago—the gloom, the anguish, the people burdened, oppressed—present in Jesus’ response to withdraw. The community’s response. There is fear. More trouble is lurking.
John’s arrest was a disruption. And that is the central Truth of today’s Word. The Truth that the inbreaking of the Holy can be, and is… and needs to be… disruptive to the status quo. In Bible study gatherings this week, I asked “in 2020, who are the workers who equate to those that fished for a vocation in Jesus’ time?” Who are the people today carrying the yokes, the burdens, the inflexible rods, who need affordable housing, healthcare, accessible transportation, quality daycare, and jobs that pay a living wage? Responses included certified nursing assistants, Home Healthcare providers, daycare workers, and migrant workers. I am sure that if we pondered the question longer, we could easily expand this preliminary list.
These are the people, the mothers, the fathers, the children, who carry today’s heavy nets. Burdens which weigh them down. Drag on their hope. These are people living in our cities: Fitchburg, Oregon, Stoughton, Verona, Madison, and beyond. Our communities are tattered and torn along the margins and in our very midst. People here, in desperate need of a Holy Disruption… something… to transform the world. This includes people, families, here… in this faith community. Memorial UCC. These are not just fishermen in far off stories from centuries past. They are us.
They. Are. Us. Hope dragged down.
What about it Church: Are we ready to let Jesus disrupt our lives? When Jesus says, “Come with me” (Matt,. 4:19b, The Message) are we prepared to not “ask questions, but simply (drop our) nets and (follow)” like the disciples did? (Matt,. 4:19b, The Message). For this is Jesus’ radical idea. A hoped for Holy, global, transformation. Hate and violence, poverty and oppression, hopelessness and fear disrupted by extravagant love and radical welcome.
As we prepare to gather for our Annual Meeting, I want to leave you with Jesus’ words. THIS is what we are to do today: Jesus says “Drop your nets. Drop your nets and I will make you fish for… I will have you build relationships with… I will teach you to care for… people.” Welcome them wherever they are from, whatever is going on in their lives, for who they are. Love them for they are a Beloved Child of God. THAT is, and was, and will always be, Jesus’ radical idea.
That’s it. That is all.
That is the Way.
In 2020, let us drop those nets…
Reflection on Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23 offered on January 26, 2020
 Thistlethwaite, Susan Brooks. #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) about Money and Power. New York: Astor Blue, 2013. 38.
 Ward-Lev, Nahum. The Liberating Path of the Hebrew Prophets: Then and Now. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis books, 2019. xxii.