As a boy, my dad used to take me fishing.
Sometimes we’d take a half-day boat out of Long Beach and try to catch some barracuda. I loved that. They had a tank of sardines you could use for bait and I would just sit there and play with them when I wasn’t trying to, you know, catch fish. That was a lot of fun. Most of the time, my dad would take me lake fishing. I’d bring a big stack of books, mostly from our local library, and just sit for hours on end reading while my dad did all the hard work. He would let me do the fun stuff like casting the line and reeling in the fish, but he would do everything else. He’d bait the hook, hook the fish, remove the fish from the line, put it in the water and secure it while I’d go back to reading. One time, when I was young, we came home with 10 trout! I ran up to my mom and told her, “Mom! Look! I caught 10 fish and dad didn’t catch anything!” As I got older, I did more and more of it on my own, and I remember watching my dad and learning from his example. He would painstakingly take the time to figure out not only which was the best bait to use, but how to put it on the hook just the right way to attract a fish. Most of the time we used salmon eggs and my dad taught me how to puncture the hook in just the right spot so the juice from the egg would seep out and bring the fish to it. Other times we’d use worms and to get them to look more appetizing (and so they would float better) you’d have to pump them up with air which my dad would do with a syringe. One time I tried doing it when he wasn’t around and he nearly freaked out, telling me that if I accidentally pumped air into my veins I could die! Haven’t touched one since. Once in a while, we’d try that weird Playdoh-like cheese. You’d roll it into a ball and shape it around the hook. The only problem was that if you didn’t shape it around the hook right, the fish might see it. Too much and he’d get a snack without getting caught. It was always touch and go with cheese. And then of course there were the marshmallows. They weren’t marshmallows like you or I would drink in our hot chocolate, these were cheese flavored and they were sort of like Cheetos. They’d leave orange stuff on your hands. My dad would try everything until he found something that worked. Sometimes it took a couple of hours and sometimes you’d get lucky and start getting hits right away. Other times, it was location. We’d notice someone a little bit down the shore getting consistent hits and we’d sort of move in that general direction. Not so much to crowd them, but just enough to dabble into whatever pool they were in. Watching my dad, I learned that the art of a good fisherman was knowing what worked and what didn’t. But you kept trying new things until you found the right combination.
Jesus wanted people who were the same way.
Our passage we’re focusing on is right at the very beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has just been put into prison and Matthew tells us that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee” (v.12). It was in the town of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus began to preach.
8 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22
The first four disciples were fishermen.
We don’t know the occupations of all twelve disciples, but of the five we do know, four were fishermen. And I don’t think it was coincidence Jesus selected them. He wanted the skill set they already possessed. He wanted people who had patience and a willingness to find out what worked in each situation. That kind of discernment would be invaluable because Jesus knew his disciples were going to have to adapt to whatever situation they were in, whether it was among the Jews, out among the Gentiles, or even further our among people completely foreign to them. He needed people who could adapt. Maybe we need to approach life with a fisherman’s mentality.
You’ve probably heard the saying about insanity.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But don’t most of us do that to some extent? We like the tried and true – even when the tried and true isn’t so true any more. But sometimes to be successful we have to be willing to do things differently. Different isn’t always popular. Different can be risky. Different means going against the status quo. But it also means looking at the same problem in a new way. It means approaching something with a fresh attitude. And often that’s what it takes to make the next big step, to evolve into something MORE. Because when the old tried and true methods no longer work as well as they used to, or no longer work at all, it takes being different. Take for example Billy Beane. If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball or if you have followed Oakland A’s baseball, you know how different he can be. Billy Beane is the general manager of the team, and in trying to be successful, he threw nearly a century of “baseball wisdom” out the window to recruit a group of players largely unwanted by anyone else. He adopted a style of scouting known as sabermetrics which involved using statistical analysis to determine a player’s worth based on things like on base percentage instead of the methods traditionally used to recruit players. He was ridiculed, criticized, and belittled in the press and among other baseball owners because they thought he was being irresponsible – and that’s putting it nicely. People said it would never work. But under his leadership the Oakland A’s have been able to field a tough, competitive team with comparatively very little money. In 2002, the season that the movie Moneyball focused on, the A’s had the third lowest payroll in all of baseball with only $39.7 million. Yet they won an American League record of 20 consecutive games and tied for most wins in all of baseball with the New York Yankees whose payroll was more than three times that of the Oakland A’s. Most teams today incorporate at least some of the principles Beane adopted and the Boston Red Sox, who won three World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013, were among the first to use this system. But it sure wasn’t easy. Being different never is.
All we have to do to look for inspiration is Jesus.
If there is anyone on earth who did things differently it was him. He turned the world on its head with his crazy thoughts and notions about love. He paid attention to women in a society that saw them as inferior. He spent time with children when most people including their parents ignored them or belittled them. He ate, drank, and broke bread with the outcasts of society. He was willing to break rules when it meant doing the right thing. We are not willing to do the same today. Even when we know it’s the right thing to do, we see people turn a blind eye or justify their inaction by blaming the other guy or group or whoever it is. Instead of being the better person, they would rather sink down into the mud with everyone else. Being different isn’t easy, but what’s the alternative? We believe in a Lord and Savior who routinely did what was different, what was unexpected, what others considered “wrong.” But at times we are unwilling to do the same in our own lives and for the things we believe in. When will we say enough is enough?
When Cassie went gluten-free I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical.
I teased her because her answer to almost everything was “they should give up gluten.” Problems with weight loss? Just give up gluten. Having digestion issues? Just give up gluten. Wanting to solve world peace? Just give up gluten. Seriously, it was like Cassie’s answer for everything was to go gluten-free. We’d hear see someone on TV or hear someone on the radio complain about a problem and Cassie would say, “They should really give up gluten.” As if it was some sort of panacea for the world. And she wanted me to follow in her footsteps since it was working so well for her. She and I have this weird similar body chemistry where we are biologically sensitive to almost EXACTLY the same things. We both get itchy ears over melons, coconuts, and avocados. We both have are sensitive to the same types of nuts. So it wouldn’t be too surprising to find out we both are sensitive to gluten, but in my head I have to admit for a while I thought Cassie went one step too far. I’d been eating things like bread and dough all my life and never had a problem before. Why should things be any different now? But for Lent a couple of years ago, I gave it up and I have to admit I felt better (giving things up at Lent always seems to work for me). I’m not quite as sensitive as Cassie is and I still have some gluten once or twice a month, but overall I really don’t miss it and I admit I do feel healthier. What I hadn’t thought about in my obstinance is that just because it worked for me before doesn’t mean it works for me now. My body continues to change over time so the things that bothered me when I was young may not bother me now, and vice versa. Like being able to go on the teacup ride at Disneyland. I used to be able to go on that ride over and over without it bothering me. I’d spin that teacup as fast as I possibly could. Now, I can barely go on at all without feeling nauseous.
We all need to be more open to change.
I want to challenge you this week to do something different. Something that maybe puts you out of your comfort zone just to get used to the idea of change. Maybe it’s as simple as wearing your shirt inside out one day and going out in public. Maybe it’s signing up for a Facebook account for the first time (I promise that if you add me as a friend I’ll follow you back). Maybe it’s trying to go gluten-free for a week – you’ll make Cassie happy. But we need to introduce intentional elements of change in our lives to live a fisherman lifestyle. We need to be intentional about change. We need to be intentional about change so we don’t see it as a burden but as an important part of growing and learning. Not only because it can be good for us but because it models the kind of life Jesus asks us to live. Be the change you want for the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.