Letting Go of Our Nets

In First Century Galilee, fishing was a thriving business. It was the main source of protein in the diets of people living in that area, so the market for fish was huge. It wasn’t a very glamorous profession, the work was demanding, but the money was good. Fishermen were not rich but they made a good living. And one day, four men just got up and left their profitable fishing business to follow a traveling carpenter. They left their nets to follow Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters,

I don’t think that Peter, Andrew, James and John had any idea what they were getting themselves in to. How could they? They were fishermen going about business as usual: casting nets, pulling them back in, sorting and salting the fish, taking them to market, and maintaining their equipment. I recall the times I’d go fishing with my brother in Canada in James Bay. The open spaces and sitting for hours in a boat out in the wilderness with a cooler full of beer. We enjoyed long talks plus many quiet moments, and then roast our catch over an open fire – setting our spirits free. The guys in our gospel certainly had it much different. Their muscles probably ached from throwing and hauling nets, their hands were cut from the sharp knives and rough fish scales.

And then Jesus called them from that life. They knew what they were leaving, but they didn't know what Jesus was calling them to do. Of course we know how things turned out, the joys and wonders in store for them. They saw miraculous healings like the paralyzed man who stood up and walked away; the little girl raised from the dead; they witnessed the power of the Transformation; they heard intriguing parables and Jesus said to them, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you". Responding to Jesus' call opened up for these four men a spiritual adventure they never could have found on their own. I wonder what decision these men would have made if they had known everything. Accepting Jesus' call put them at risk. Would they have responded so quickly if they knew what would happen in the Garden of Gethsemane? Or the crucifixion? What would James have done if he had known that Herod would have him beheaded?

In Matthew’s presentation of the calling of these four disciples, not one of them hesitated for a second. John tells a slightly different version in his Gospel. There, John the Baptist tells them who Jesus is before they decide to follow. They have a little time to consider their decision, whereas Matthew has them dropping everything and blindly following a man they barely know. No matter how much we study and compare the Gospels, or how carefully we make our decision to follow Jesus, we won't know what lies ahead of us when we respond. We don’t know what was going through the minds of the four disciples, but we do know that they let go of their nets. We also know what Matthew thought of Jesus' mission. Jesus came to bring light to those who had sat in darkness. Part of that darkness was political oppression under the rule of the Romans. Part of that darkness was hopelessness. Part of that darkness was illness. Part of that darkness was spiritual depression and anguish. Jesus came to bring light into the darkness. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven closer to us. In Jesus, God came down and walked in our world to bring hope. For Matthew, it was worth it to let go of our nets and leave the old life behind just to be a part of that ministry.

And Jesus continues to call us to be a part of that ministry today. I recently read an article about two highly-paid 30-something Swiss Bankers who one day / just left their jobs / let go of their nets, to travel half way around the world to create a children and youth organization called Child’s Dream. Last year their relief agency supported about half a million kids.

We are not always called to leave our jobs or move half way around the world to start a charity project, but we are called to follow Jesus. And to do that, we first have to let go of our nets. And when I say let go of our nets, I think you know what I’m talking about – it’s not the ones lowered into the water!

Think about that for a moment brothers and sisters…….and then ask yourself: what has a hold of me and what traps me? Is it the net of ambition, the chasing after a career that leaves you drained at the end of the week? What about the ego net that tells us we are better than everyone else, giving us a false sense of confidence making us feel like we can do anything? What’s worse is the net of low self-esteem. It gets a hold of a person telling them that they are not good enough. It traps a person into feeling they are not qualified to answer Jesus’ call, not worthy enough to do his work. It’s crippling when we hold on to feelings of inadequacy, using our shortcomings as an excuse for not trying.

It should be obvious to you that German is my native language, but I stand here, every other week praying with you and speaking to you in English. Sometimes I make mistakes but I think you understand my message loud and clear: Let go of those nets, you are good enough, just do it! Say yes and follow Jesus.  The Lord needs you to be his eyes, his feet, his hands. Each and every one of you sitting here this evening is capable of being just that: disciples of Jesus. Sometimes the mistakes of the past are the building blocks of our later successes. The list of nets goes on. I'm not sure what to say about James and John leaving their father in the boat. They left him to carry on the family business while they followed Jesus. I know a person who left his families to follow a calling: the patron saint of Switzerland, Brother Klaus. In his case it turned out to be the best thing to do! But that’s not always the best decision for everyone. I have known other people who found a way to do volunteer work and spend time with their families. God gives each of us talents to use and his call can stretch us in ways we hadn't expected.

My dear friends, Jesus called his disciples and he calls us too. We don't always know what will happen but we do know that the Lord is with us and that he will work through our ministries, in spite of our shortcomings, failures and brokenness. Drop your nets, follow Jesus and let the light of God's kingdom shine out into the darkness of this world. Amen.