The Naked Man – pt. 15

Mending fishing nets at the port of Caleta de Velez, Andalucia, Spain. November 2006.

Mending fishing nets at the port of Caleta de Velez, Andalucia, Spain.
November 2006.

Mark dipped the last of his bread in the bowl of olive oil before him, and ate it with relish, smacking his lips with pleasure. “Ah, mother, there’s a world of memories in the taste of the oil from our trees.” Miryam smiled, and nodded in agreement. “It may not be the finest oil that Jerusalem has to offer, but generation upon generation of our family has enjoyed it. We have grown it together, pressed it together, sold it in the markets and, of course, eaten it together.” Her eyes took on a distant look. “And you, Yohannan, as our oldest son, the family business would have fallen to you eventually, as it had to your father – he of blessed memory – before you. And his father before him. But that was not to be, once you met Jesus…” Mark leaned forward. “Do you regret that, mother?” he asked gently. Her eyes came back into focus. “No, no, of course not. But I admit it was hard at first. Very hard. I did not understand. To turn your back on your family…” She took his hand and squeezed it, and looked into his eyes. “But I know now that more than turning your back on us, you were turning towards something else. A new kind of family, in a new kind of world. A family in which you and I belong to each other in a new way.” She gestured at the assembly in the courtyard. “This is our family. As Jesus said, ‘Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’ And I still pray every day that your brothers Benyamin and Daniel will one day choose this family themselves.” “May it be so, mother,” Mark said, as he rose to address the ecclesia.

“Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Last night we left the story of Jesus with him returning to Galilee following his time of trial in the wilderness. He returned home, preaching the gospel of God, saying,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the gospel.’

And as he was going along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them,

‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’

And they immediately left the nets and followed him.”

“Just like that?” asked Yiftach. “They just up and left their work, to follow your Jesus and become, what did you say, ‘fishers of men’? What does that mean?”

“And,” called out another, “surely it is not the custom of rabbis to call disciples. The student chooses the master, not the other way around. And these are fishermen, not students of Torah. What kind of rabbi would choose them?” “What kind of rabbi, indeed?” responded Mark. “Perhaps one who is not calling students for just a season in order that they might become rabbis themselves, but one who calls the unlikeliest people to a lifetime of discipleship in the new world that has broken in with his coming. But to do that, one must first make a break with the old world, with ‘business as usual’, if you like. Even with the family business.” At this he cast a quick glance at this mother. “For Jesus, going a little farther, saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately Jesus called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow him. Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen. Now, to be sure, these are not the poorest of the poor – like the day laborers Zebedee was able to hire. But neither are they the wealthy and powerful, those with the time, perhaps, to study Torah.”

Mark turned to Yiftach. “Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him and become ‘fishers of men.’ You asked what that meant. I believe Jesus is drawing from the prophetic tradition, for this euphemism can be found in several of their writings, often used for those whom G_d uses to censure the rich, the powerful, and even our own nation. Through the prophet Jeremiah, G_d spoke this word against Judah,

‘Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen, and they will fish for them…For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my face, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes.’

“Through the prophet Amos, G_d spoke this word against the wealthy of Bashan, who oppressed the poor and crushed the needy:

‘Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks.’

“The prophet Ezekiel wrote,

‘Son of man, set your face against pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say, “Thus says the Lord G_d, ‘Behold, I am against you pharaoh, king of Egypt…who has said, “My Nile is mine, and I myself have made it.” I shall put hooks in your jaws…and I shall bring you up out of the midst of your rivers…and I shall abandon you in the wilderness.’

“I believe Jesus stands squarely in the prophetic tradition, and came to bear witness against those who oppress the poor, who fail to care for those in their care and whose privilege makes them blind to the plight of their neighbors. The dawn of the kingdom rises at the margins of the world, among common folk – folk like you and I – and Jesus called them to join him in announcing the coming of the new world, and denouncing those who maintained the strongholds of oppression within the old. He called them – and they followed…”

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