Fishers of Humans
Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Let’s talk about the difference between a noun and a verb.
According to my Harper’s English Grammar, a noun is the name of a person, animal, condition, material, object, place or quality. There are common nouns like church, coffee, irritability or fish and there are proper nouns like Vancouver or Shannon or Anglican.
From the same source, a verb is “a word or a term with which one may make an assertion in regard to action or in regard to state or condition”. I learned a simpler version: a verb is an action word. Although sometimes the action is “to be”. So things like run, sit, think, climb, speak and fish are all verbs.
And there are words that can be both. Like fish.
But never mind fish for the moment. We’ll get to fish.
For now, let’s talk about you. What about you? What are some nouns that apply to you.
First of all there’s your name (or names). What other nouns are you? I tried this on Rowan and it’s harder than it sounds. As a clue these are sentences that start out: I am a….
- (profession – musician, accountant, teacher, nurse…)
- (hobby like gardener, knitter, singer)
- (family status – mother, brother, son, grandparent, aunt)
Now what about verbs – what do you do? In fact, what are you doing right now?
- Sitting, listening, making notes, doodling, texting, tweeting, knitting
Other things you do –
- Cook, clean, pay bills, walk, run, swim, paint, write….
Now – there’s a difference between what you are and what you do. Except maybe for breathing, what you are you are all the time and what you do, you do while you are doing it.
So you can be an accountant or a retired account but you are still an accountant. It’s how your mind works, it’s the things you notice, it’s the way you like the world to line up. Your mother can be dead or have dementia or be estranged for years but you are still a daughter. You can have too much arthritis to be able to garden much, but your tendency will still be to pull up that weed, to imagine how it would look if that plant were over there and there were some daisies over here. And if you are a real fan, you are fan no matter how badly your team is doing.
But the things you do, you do while you are doing them. You walk for an hour every day at 7:30. You sit while the other thing you do works better sitting. You cook when it’s time to get the meal ready. You listen when there’s something worth listening to . You pay bills before they’re due (probably) but not all day every day.
Do you see the difference? There are things that you are all the time, even when you’re not doing them and there are things you do while you are doing them. I garden but I’m not a gardener. I pay bills but that’s not who I am.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled fishing program.
Do you remember the King James Version of this story?
16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
Now think about the way we just heard it, in the New Revised Standard Version:
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’
Do you hear the difference? Are we fishers or are we going to fish?
Normally, the New Revised Standard Version is a better translation from the Greek.
However, the New Revised Standard Version also tries really hard to use inclusive language for people. So we get brothers and sisters unless we’re talking about males with a sibling bond (like Andrew the brother of Simon) and we get people unless it’s clearly and specifically men.
Given the number of female followers Jesus had, and welcomed, it seems unlikely that Jesus was really focusing his ministry on males. So the great minds (and I say that with a complete absence of sarcasm) who put together the New Revised Standard Version translation thought they’d make that clear from the get go. They probably tried “fishers of people” and “fishers of folk” and maybe a few other things and eventually decided that they’d better just go with “fish for people”.
So which is it? The proper response at this time is always, “Well what does it say in the original language?”
I’m glad you asked.
It says “fishers”. So Andrew and Simon were fishers of fish and Jesus was going to make them fishers for people.
This is crucial for us and for our understanding of ourselves as people who heard Jesus say “follow me” and did, because we do not go fishing from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good.
We are fishers. We are constantly evaluating our environment to see if the fish are likely to be biting. We carry worms in our pockets and wear funky hats and vests with lots of pockets for those worms.
At this point I need to drop the fishing analogy because it’s getting ridiculous and the idea of baiting and hooking doesn’t really work so well. I can work with worms and hats and now I have to quit.
The worm, by the way, is not the food or the singing or the idea of going to heaven. It’s the story – the story that brings meaning and purpose and hope to our lives, to this community and to the world.
What Jesus was calling them to be was disciples who were going to wander around telling a story. And in that process they would find find others who wanted to be part of that story and follow in that same way. And they were not going to (forgive me) “disciple” from 5-7 a.m. on Saturdays, rainy evenings and for a couple of hours on Sunday, longer if the food is good. They were going to be disciples all the time. 24/7/52. Even when they didn’t really understand what it meant to be a disciple they were still disciples. Even when Jesus was shaking his head at their complete inability to get the simplest concept, they were disciples.
The reading from 1 Corinthians comes from a larger passage about how to live in this world with an allegiance to another world. Here, Jesus tells us in the big picture what Paul attempts to break down to a bunch of smaller pictures. We are here for now. We are disciples for always. It’s who we are and it’s more than just what we do when it works into our schedule. We are disciples.