Creekside Church
Sermon of October 11, 2020

"The Best Job in the World"
Matthew 4:18-25

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I hope you aren’t tired of fish yet. Fishing was an activity that some of Jesus’ disciples engaged in, and cooking and serving fish was something our Lord did for his friends, so I believe we’re on pretty solid scriptural ground to continue this theme after our Fish Fry, even if it takes us out into deep water today. Even though fishing is an actual activity in this passage -- folks were casting a real net with the intention of catching real fish -- Jesus quickly takes the conversation to a metaphorical level: nobody actually fishes for people, as far as I know. I suppose maybe fishing up the body of someone who has drowned, but that’s clearly not what Jesus is talking about. Remarkably, the gospel of Matthew doesn’t record any confusion about what this Jesus guy is talking about, nor does there seem to be any hesitation on the part of Peter, Andrew, James and John. Immediately they left their nets or their boat and followed Jesus. How could they have known what they were getting into? I’m sure they didn’t. How could they have known who Jesus was? I don’t think they did. Why would anyone drop everything and follow someone under those circumstances? That is a very good question.

I have appreciated the reflections of Rob Bell in his Nooma video series, and some of his insights about this account from Matthew have been especially helpful to me. Fishing has always been hard work -- at least for folks who have to do it for a living. Long hours of physical work, all kinds of weather, constantly mending nets and taking care of boats. In addition, fishing has never been a lucrative profession -- at least not for the folks who are actually putting nets in the water. It’s an entry-level job; it helps if your father was a fisherman, but you don’t have to be the sharpest tool in the shed in order to work on a fishing boat. But here’s where 1st C Jewish culture is different than 21st Century American culture: the highest, most prestigious, most respected calling for young man at that time, was to be a disciple to a teacher: perhaps with the goal of becoming a rabbi yourself, but even just to be in the presence of someone who is a scholar of the Jewish law and writings. It meant that you were intelligent and insightful and dedicated: the cream of the crop. In a society with no middle class, and where the occupying Romans controlled the wealth and power, being a disciple was a great honor and privilege -- especially if your rabbi was known and respected. These would have been some of the highest aspirations of young Jewish men. These ordinary guys were being given the opportunity to jump ship -- literally -- and go from doing grunt work on the bottom rungs of the social ladder, and to become respected and admired members of their community. It was a chance of a life time, and they jumped. Whether or not they believed in Jesus, it was clear that Jesus believed in them. Jesus gave them the opportunity to do the best job in the world.

So I want to talk about the best job in the world -- that is, being a follower of Jesus Christ. I know that sometimes the only part of that job which we’re told about is the out-of-this world, good-for-eternity benefit that you get after you die. That is not where I want to focus today, primarily because following Jesus in order to punch your ticket into heaven in the afterlife is nowhere in this text from Matthew. Jesus makes no promises to the fisherman, there is no discussion of the Four Spiritual Laws, they just drop what they’re doing and follow him.

And here’s what happens next: Jesus goes throughout the region of Galilee, around the sea where he called these fisherman. And he does two things: #1 he proclaims the good news of the kingdom -- that’s the kingdom of God, or as Matthew is more likely to call it, the kingdom of heaven and #2 he cures every disease and heals every sickness among the people. Matthew gives us a list of those diseases -- it’s a pretty short list--but of course folks in 1st C Palestine didn’t have the same names for various afflictions that we do: being possessed by demons is kind of a catch-all diagnosis. It’s pretty clear that Matthew is telling his readers that Jesus had the power to cure any disease or affliction, and naturally, great crowds are drawn to him from all over the region.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for those four fisherman? This is immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John and his temptation in the wilderness. Jesus doesn’t even have a full complement of 12 disciples yet, and already his ministry is taking off like a rocket, getting lots of attention and drawing huge crowds. We aren’t told exactly what Peter, Andrew, James, and John are doing while this is happening -- probably running for coffee and snacks and helping with crowd control, “All the epileptics over in this section, please” -- but they are in the presence of this great man, the greatest of men, and they are at the epicenter of something amazing and life-changing. They may not be healing anyone themselves, but they are in the rooms and the fields where it happens. Incredible energy and miracles and purpose. The best job in the world.

It is a valuable exercise, I believe, to take a few moments to contemplate what it means that Jesus Christ can heal any disease. Of course, people around Jesus, including his friend Lazarus, still died. Is this just a metaphor that Matthew is using, or can Christ still bring about healing? Where is Jesus in the midst of a global pandemic which has killed hundreds of thousands of people? Last Sunday, I asked you to tell me what does a body good: specifically, what does the body of Christ good? Here are some of the things you shared, either during that service or afterward: Prayer, Faith, Gratitude, Humor, Forgiveness, Tolerance, Compassion, Making time to invest in relationships, Appealing to our “Better Angels” in working through differences, Service, Humility and Love. These are things which you told me which build up the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, we have the best job in the world. Not the easiest, for sure, but potentially the most rewarding. You can keep fishing if you want -- there’s no shame in being a fisherman -- but whatever is paying the bills and putting food on the table is only a part of who we are and who we are called to be and who we are challenged to be. Each one of us is called to follow Jesus: to be part of the kingdom that he proclaimed. That kingdom is not yet fully realized, but a part of it is here, right now, when we embody the teaching of Jesus and act with the faith, compassion, and love which builds up others and builds up the body of Christ. We put our faith in a teacher who had the power to heal sickness and disease. We don’t have the miraculous power that Jesus does, but we can still work at healing the divisions in our communities and country caused by hatred and systemic injustice and political polarization. As followers of Jesus this is our work to participate in, with whatever gifts we have been given. We continue the work of Jesus because we believe in Jesus as God’s Son, Savior and Redeemer. But we also continue the work of Jesus because Jesus believes in us: we are the body of Christ. We are fishermen, tax collectors, teachers, nurses, parents, factory workers, accountants, but as followers of Jesus, we have the best job in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

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