One of my favorite memories from my childhood was going fishing with my dad. Today I had the opportunity to revisit those memories as we took our Hillside and Fairfield court community members to Three Lakes Park. We had several groups who spread out across the park, some played on the playground, some hung out in the air conditioned aquarium, and a few of us brave souls headed down to the lake to fish. The fishing group was led by two professionals, Mrs. Mildred (pictured here) and Mrs. Janie. Our team also included a first time fisherman, Samantha, and the rest of us amateurs. While it would have been nice to have pulled a real fish out of that lake instead of sticks and trash, I did catch a glimpse of something divine in our time together.
I had the opportunity to visit with Mrs. Mildred who shared how she had grown up on a hog farm and spent many lazy summer day’s down at the pond fishing with her cane pole as a young girl. As she sat there with her rod and reel in hand, a serene and peaceful spirit fell upon her as her eyes settled over the lake. A true fisherman knows how to quite their spirit and wait. They know that the first move is always made by the fish.
As I was sitting there watching the group fish, I was reminded of Jesus calling of the first disciples, a bunch of fisherman, as reported in Mark Chapter 1.
16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him.
19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
What did Jesus mean by the words, “I will make you fishers of men?” In some ways I find this metaphor very disturbing. Are we to look at our fellow man as “prey” that we are trying to “catch?” I know there are some who operate out of that place of the hunter stalking the hunted. However, I think there is another image that arises from this scene depicting the calling of the first disciples that is far more helpful.
As I sat watching my daughter teach her friend Samantha how to fish with Mildred the professional quietly sitting in the backdrop modeling how it is done, it hit me. This story is not about fishing for men, it is about a master teacher, leading by example, those who are to come after.
What I find interesting in this passage is that Jesus offered these men nothing except the opportunity to “follow” and to use their “fishing” skills for a higher purpose. So much of what we call “the good news” in contemporary Christianity, involves offering “bait” and “reeling people in.” The “bait” often sounds like a free ticket to heaven, health, wealth, blessings, and prosperity. However, what Jesus offered was an opportunity for the disciples to simply “follow him” and use their gift to serve others.
We know from the book of Acts, that these early Christ followers were known as “followers of the way.” What does it mean to walk in “the way” of Jesus? I honestly don’t think the early church was all too concerned with theology or doctrine and Jesus did not really seem concerned with the sins or biblical knowledge of these men. When Jesus called the first disciples, he did not have them enroll in “Christianity 101”, he did not require they join a church, prove their faithfulness and earn the right to be called ministers of the gospel. All he did is issue an invitation to walk in his footsteps and as they followed him, they learned all they needed to know about living in “the way.”
In looking at the lives of these early “followers of the way”, what stands out to me is their willingness to suffer and die for what they believed. For me following the way of Jesus represents a willingness to do what the “rich young ruler” in Luke 19:16-22 was unwilling to do; to give everything in service to others. In other words, “the way” is more about what you are willing to give than what you are going to get. It is being willing to be crucified in order to usher in God’s reign here on earth. The willingness to leave family, friends, possessions, professions for the privilege of following Jesus.
Today, I got to hang out with a bunch of “followers of the way”; people who routinely sacrifice money, time, and what possessions they have to serve others. We did what I am sure those first followers did. We spent time together, fishing, laughing, and learning from one another. No one “got saved”, no one “came to know Jesus”, but we all experienced Christ spirit among us as we gathered in His name. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to sit with Christ who dwells within each of my fellow teammates and simply enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and the gift of fellowship. My prayer is that God would continue to gather “followers of the way” and that together we would seek to walk in Christ footsteps serving the least of these and inviting all to use what they have to serve their fellow man.