Hauling and casting nets is hard work. Simon, Andrew, James and John on the shores with their nets conjure up an image I remember from Ecuador two years ago. About thirty of us were standing on the shore of the Pacific Coast celebrating our last Eucharist. We were facing the ocean quietly when a thin, strong, man in sun bleached clothes walked slowly and stooped as he drug a huge net slung over one shoulder behind him. It was easy to see this as a long routine of walking back and forth across this patch of ocean casting and hauling his nets.
This net represents our worldly entanglements, the things that trap us in our own lives. At the beginning of the fourth chapter of Matthew, Jesus hears that the Roman authorities have executed John. It means that his words were threatening and he was beginning to draw a crowd. It seems like a good time for Jesus to join the fishermen and keep his head down. When he was arrested and killed, John had been preaching, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus, instead picks up John’s mantel, and begins his first public words by echoing John, “Repent, the kingdom of God is near.” It is a brave and compassionate message. He walked by the sea and preached it to Andrew, Simon, James and John. And instead of turning away, it says they immediately dropped their nets and followed him.
Over the years I have always heard this Gospel and thought what a sacrifice it was for them to drop everything and become disciples. I know it still is, and I know it cost them their life, but as I read it this week, I felt something deeper. I thought what a blessing it was to hear the call and get to drop their nets and be close to Jesus. Jesus was offering them a gift---to let go of their heavy burdens, to feel the gift of sweet forgiveness and grace and walk with him. If the Gospel is the living word, then in this story we are the disciples, walking back and forth across our stretch of beaches, and Jesus is offering us a way to live and be fishers of people. We get to let go of fear, anxiety, pride, guilt, grief, and feel the joy of following our call to be disciples. It is the path of love, forgiveness and grace.
Andrew, Simon, James and John go on a journey; some of their names even change along the way, and they end up in Jerusalem watching their beloved Lord executed. Then come the rumors, the waiting, the sightings, and they all return to the sea. In the Gospel of John it says that Simon, now Peter, says to the rest of the group, “I’m going fishing.” And they all join him. Everything has changed, but they are still fishermen. They had never stopped being who they were, they just dropped their nets long enough to find their way to the presence of God. They went out all night and didn’t catch a thing. Then at dawn Jesus, instead of telling them to drop their nets, now invites them to cast their nets again. The net has been transformed from the entanglements of the world into the overwhelming bounty of living in the spirit of Love. And it is overflowing. It is so full of fish that they can’t haul it in.
This is our call as individuals and as the community of disciples to drop out nets---to do our best to love the world, one another, and ourselves and feel grace work in our hearts. We can lay our burdens of the world down, and then taste the gift of the kingdom of God being near to us so that we remember we are fishermen and women ready to cast for love’s sake.