We’ve been looking at Jesus’ parables during the adult forum hour and again on Wednesday evenings. Many of them open with “the kingdom of heaven is like…” So far, we’ve looked at it being like a pearl of great price and a mustard seed.
Although not a parable, per se, today’s gospel puts the same words in the front of a story about Jesus calling his first disciples—Simon, Andrew, James, and John. So, I don’t think I’m making too big a stretch to characterize their call as a parable and consider what it adds to our increasing base of knowledge about the kingdom of heaven.
So, to re-arrange the passage just a bit, consider this:
Jesus said “The kingdom is like brothers working together. Two of the brothers were casting a net into the sea to catch fish, and two other brothers were inside their boat mending their net. A famously outspoken Jew had just been arrested (John was much more famous than his cousin Jesus in the beginning, because John had been outspoken in his condemnation of the king’s adulterous liaison), and his cousin—who had just returned from spending 40 days in the wilderness with wild beasts and the devil, now approached the brothers.
He called out to the ones casting their net for fish to follow him so he could make them fishers of people. Then he walked toward the two other brothers in the boat mending their net, and he called to them to also follow, but he didn’t make them any promises. All four brothers walked away from what they were doing and from what was happening to the outspoken man who had just been arrested. And, from that day, they followed that man’s cousin.”
I promise you this doesn’t sound any stranger than pearls, seeds, or harassing widows. What does this say about the Kingdom of Heaven? And, what does it say if it’s here, all around us now, especially in this season of Epiphany, of light?
Our bishop tells us that “casting and mending” is what it looks like to follow Christ. We cast ourselves out into the unknown world through faith in order to bring in to the fellowship those who have not yet heard the good news of God’s love for them. But our nets—our lives– get torn along the way, and cease to be effective. And, so we spend time ‘back in the boat’, mending our nets so that our casting them out is effective. “Mending” is the work of healing, repair, reconciliation, and redemption.
We are only as effective when we put ourselves out to the world as we are mended. In fact, the people who God has mended, whose brokenness is restored, and whose compassion is thereby deepened, these end up being the most effective at putting themselves out there for Christ. Because these people, more than others, know just what good news the gospel is!
But, what about this piece of the parable that mentions all of this sandwiched between John’s arrest and Jesus’ time in the wilderness?
An exercise we have been using in our parable studies involves exploring what a parable says about God’s activity in the world. It seems that the setting of this parable in the shadow of John’s arrest and eventual death foreshadows our funeral liturgy where only by God’s grace we can stand beside an urn of ashes and still say “Alleluia”. And, after Jesus’ time in the wilderness, there is additional urgency to gospel proclamation. Jesus knew that John could not be separated from the love of God—even by death. The contrast is not intended to portray God as capricious, but rather able to hold all things together in tension. It is a sobering idea, and very different from our tendency toward a childlike confusion of God with a fairy tale. In the real world—the world into which the kingdom of heaven is come—the picture is more Tolkien’s “History of Middle Earth” than it is like Lerner and Loew’s “Camelot”.
It also looks like some of us have a clear sense of our new identities the moment we answer Christ’s call and others answer the call without any idea of what this will mean for them, and that God can use both to God’s glory and for our improvement.
Repent, believe, follow, become. We do not repent to usher in the time of God, but because the time of God has arrived. We do not believe because we understand God, but because we believe we are understood by God and are convinced that, even understanding us as God does, we still matter to God. In the kingdom of heaven, Simon, Andrew, James, and John were invited to do what they were already doing differently.
How we live our lives as Christian disciples is not about adding new tasks, but about getting new identities. Who do you feel called to be because the kingdom of heaven has come near? Will conversations with your spouse take on a different tone, will there be more eye contact and genuine interest in questions like “how was your day?”
Will we look to make heart-to-heart connections with our teenaged children instead of focusing only on whether they mind the tone of their voices? Will we notice in a friend’s constant complaint a window into what she fears so deeply she cannot express it? Will we see ourselves as beloved, mended, nets able to take holy risks in order to get the news out? Can we see our lives together here at Grace as opportunities to support each other in the face of devastating loss as well as dancing together at our children’s weddings?
The kingdom of heaven is come near to all of us this day. Repent, believe, follow, and become.
The Rev. Dr. Park
3d Sunday after the Epiphany Year B
January 25, 2015