Friday, November 4, 2011

Faith, Fishing and Fishhooks

"As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen." (Mark 1:16)
Buddy David Wellman at the edge of the Sea of Galilee
Today we stand on the shores of this small sea--some wading in its still waters, some kneeling to touch.  Cyprian finds a flock of noisy sparrows, traces their flight with delight.  It's easy to imagine Jesus down here, in no particular hurry, watching and waiting.  Early in the morning.
"And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.'" (Mark 1:17)
This is a moment of interruption, a teacher inviting change and courage.  Follow me, and we will do something different--together.  Follow me, and we will fish in a whole new way.  Follow me, and we will study and discuss and dare and practice in community.  I will make you fish for people.

Mark's gospel--right from the start--identifies with the edgy tradition of the Hebrew prophets.  Its first verses invoke Isaiah: "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE GOD'S PATHS STRAIGHT!'"  And its first scene stirs memories of Elijah: "John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins...and he was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey..."  It's a self-consciously prophetic tale--casting Jesus in the tradition of all those whose desire for God manifested in profound passion for justice.  The kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus proclaims, boldly, tenderly.  Let us build together.

Fish at market in Jerusalem's Old City
But what about fishing?  What about this business of fishing for people?  Standing on these shores, I want to feel the call.  I want to sense his urgency.  What's this about fishing for people in the kingdom of God?

Here, too, Mark's gospel makes prophetic connections.  Story calls to story; word calls to word.  The prophet rises to preach the Exodus story of critique and liberation, responsibility and compassion.
"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, 'Bring me something to drink!'  The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they will take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.   Through the breaches in the wall, you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the Lord." (Amos 4:1-3)
Ankle deep in the Sea of Galilee, I'm thinking not only of Jesus and Simon and Andrew, but of Amos as well.  What about the nation that looks the other way as the rich get richer and the rest lose hope?  What about the economy that crushes the needy and withdraws any kind of support for basic human needs?  Here by the shores of the sea, I'm thinking of the folks in the Occupy Wall Street movement back home.  I'm thinking of my COPA friends urgently planning the STAND UP & TAKE CHARGE campaign two weeks hence in Salinas.  I'm thinking of prophets serving at the food bank and praying at the jail and harvesting autumn fruits for the poor.

It's quite possible that the fishing Mark has in mind--and Jesus before him--had something to do with Amos' plea.  Hear this word: you who oppress the poor!  Hear this word: you who crush the needy!  I call you now to a radical practice of neighbor-love and eucharistic-sharing.  Leave your nets behind; let us fish together and agitate for economic justice and the kingdom of God.  I have to believe Jesus had no intention of 'saving souls' simply to bring himself a bunch of ritualized hoo-hah.  Rather, he positioned his ministry in the profoundly unsettling, deeply faithful spirit of Amos, Isaiah and Elijah.

It's a sweet place, this beach by the Galilee.  And I can easily imagine my Teacher singing as he watched the fishermen pull their nets and row to shore.  But it gets harder now.  He is calling them and us to something more difficult, to a narrow way, to a jubilee practice that most skim over.
"Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:23-24)
On the Barrier Wall in Bethlehem
It strikes me, here in the Galilee, that Jesus refused to settle for a shrill faith, for a bitter politics.  He touched the face of God--with every breath, in every child, on every hillside.  With such love and grace, he turned to serve the poor, to fish out injustice and malice, to insist on humility even and especially among those who would be prophets.

Tonight, I turn my face to him, and my heart.  And I pray for the courage--and the decency--to follow where he leads. Salinas on the 16th.  Occupy Movements everywhere.  Feeding the hungry and bringing the powerful to their senses.