Sometimes lectionary floors me. The juxtaposition of passages can be brilliant or bizarre – and when I saw what was slotted for this coming week, I had to laugh.
Nineveh repents and God relents, followed by Jesus calling people to repent, then calling Simon and Andrew to leave their nets and become fishers of men.
So, you can see the connection. Repent, repent. But really? From poor old post-whale Jonah to fishers of men?
It’s hard to be reverent when this is the reading material at hand.
So let’s start with repentance. To repent is to turn away the way things are and to turn towards the new. The baptism John offered was a baptism of repentance, and, in this passage from Mark, Jesus echoes John’s worlds “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
And then he called the fishermen. He called them away from their nets and towards a new path as fishers of men. A bit of word play, but also a good representation of the preceding call. Leave where you were and begin something new.
I remember hearing these words as a child and something in them resounded with me. The phrase fishers of men felt like poetry. And then in Sunday school, reading from the intentionally accessible Good News translation, I found Jesus saying there that he would teach the disciples to “catch people”. Which solves the gendered language problem, but sounds creepy.
As if missional theology is about collecting people. Like dead butterflies.
As if people had to be trapped and pinned down into godly living.
But reading Jonah along side Mark, we find a remarkable image of repentance. Jonah speaks the words and the people of Nineveh believe God (Jonah 3:4-5). Jonah doesn’t have to cajole or coax, there’s no debate at all. Jonah calls out the words of God, and the people of Nineveh believe God.
I suppose there is a difference between catching and trapping.
I spend a lot of time trying to catch Blue. He likes to run about and to hide. Under beds, behind curtains, beside the sofa. Anywhere he can scurry off to and feel alone and cheeky. There’s a new cafe just opened up just next door to us, and we were in there on Friday for a mums-and-kids knitting morning. After the coffee cups were empty and the last toast crumbs and jam smears finally abandoned (and a few rows of knitting accomplished, too), we gathered coats, and I went to the counter to pay. Blue sat down on top of my feet for a moment, and then sprang up again. I was looking in my wallet so I didn’t see him go, but I found my coins and then glanced over for him. Gone. I looked back over to the other mums, and he wasn’t there either. Underneath the table? Nope. Anywhere? Dropped my wallet on the counter and ran out the door. And yes, he had gone home to hide from me behind the hedge. I threw open my arms, and he ran in, giggling. Caught. I’d love for him to turn and repent his hiding ways, but he’s three, and that’s some work we have to do together. In the meantime, I love that I get to catch him.
(And for the grandmothers reading this, yes, I promise I will keep a hand on him more tightly in the future.)
Catching Beangirl doesn’t require much running on my part right now. I just need to sit down of the sofa with a book and invite her to do the same. We like cuddling up with our feet under the same blanket and close enough to read the funny bits out loud to each other. Caught.
I think that the fishing and the catching of people to which Jesus calls us is akin to this.
We are to invite people, to gather people in a moment, for a moment, that in that moment we might know God together.
We are to set tables and find stories and throw open our arms to each other.
We are to love. As fishermen and prophets. As lectionarians and parents.
You can’t get a better job than that.