Is the Doomsday Clock right do you think? Are these Atomic Scientists correct in saying that: ‘World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.’ ‘In 2015,’ the group says, ‘unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.’ Recent concerns might include the growing dislocation of Russia; the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers; struggles in the Middle East and the unprecedented levels of terrorism alert across the world. Not a very happy situation is it? So is the end of the world near?
Our lectionary readings today all reflect a similar urgency and challenge to human beings to respond to the signs of their times. They remind us that we are called to recognise God and to participate actively in the work of God’s Kingdom, God’s shalom, God’s longing for peace and love, and justice. So how will we respond to the signs and challenge of our times?...
Instead, as ever when we are struggling for understanding, let us turn back to Jesus. For what is happening in today’s Gospel story? Why, especially, do the fisher folk leave their old lives and follow Jesus?
At the back and heart of this story is not simply the religious power of God in Jesus, but also the social and political tensions of Jesus’ day. In fact, these things pretty much always run together in the Bible, even though human beings have tried, again and again, to keep them separate. After all, if you really think about it, they have to go together. For if God is God of all things, then God is concerned for religious things and social and political things, and every other thing we can possibly imagine. So the Good News of Jesus is about bringing God’s love and healing to them all. This is certainly the reality of Jesus and the calling of his first followers. Why does Jesus call them and why do they respond? They do so, not just because they are seeking profound religious liberation, but also because this liberation is also about changing all aspects of their life and world.
Let us take the key phrase, ‘follow me and I will make you fishers for people.’(Mark 1.16) Now, it is possible to understood this in narrowly evangelistic terms. Behind this passage however, is the powerful text from Jeremiah (16.14-16), in which the prophet speaks of a new movement which will emerge to restore land and life and liberty to the people:
Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt’, 15but ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.
To ‘fish for people’ therefore is not about evangelism as narrowly understood, but about attracting others to this liberating movement of God. Following Jeremiah, it is about catching out the rich and powerful and liberating the oppressed. As the Messiah, Jesus embodies the Jewish hope for God’s shalom, the longing for peace, justice and the wellbeing of all creation. This helps us understand why the fisher folk responded. For in those days, life was becoming increasingly difficult, not just for the poorest but also for what we might call middle-income families: people (like fisher folk) who were traditionally independent and self-sufficient. To fund the huge expansions of Roman occupation, and to line the pockets of the Roman leaders and their Jewish collaborators, ever steeper taxes and more oppressive laws were being imposed, not least dramatic increases in the price of fishing licences. When Jesus appeared therefore, his invitation to join in God’s new movement of liberation was a compelling one, socially and politically, as well as religiously. For the fisher folk it must have seemed that the hands on their doomsday clock were practically at midnight. It was time for a new time: God’s time.
Isn’t this really the message for us: that the old time is up and God’s time is calling to us? In the face of the challenges of our day, are we not also being called to leave the comfort of many of our ways, to renew our world as God would have it be? Can we be ‘fishers of people’ in the full biblical sense: catching out the rich and the powerful, liberating the oppressed and sharing in the movement of Jesus? After all, as St Paul says ‘the present form of this world is passing away’ and the operators of today’s Doomsday Clock might agree. So, what are waiting for? Let me conclude with some famous words attriibuted to the Hopi elders in North America:
‘You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered . . . Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation... It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader… This could be a good time!" Gather yourselves! "We are the ones we've been waiting for.’
In the peace, the shalom, of God, Amen.
by Jon Inkpin, for Epiphany 3, Year A