Matthew 4:18-22 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
MESSAGE “As Jesus Walked By” Rev. James Renfrew
I love the way this story begins. As Jesus walked by the sea … as he walked by the sea he noticed something. Was he just taking a pleasant walk in the early morning to enjoy the warm sun and the fresh air, and he just happened to bump into some fishermen?
Was this the first time he saw what he saw that morning? I think he had been “casing” the situation over many days, ever since he moved to that village by the sea. I think he’d been observing the nuances of fishing, the good days, the bad days, the number of fish in the net, the quality of the catch, the numbers of customers, the condition of the nets and the boats, the money in their pockets at the end of the day, the morale of the fishermen, and maybe insights about the health of their families. Did he just happen by, or had he been watching them for some time?
Have you seen “Sherlock”? It’s a PBS show that takes Sherlock Holmes from the Victorian Era and places him in modern London. Sherlock Holmes is famous for his powers of observation. He observes little quirks of behavior, tiny bits of evidence, and inconsequential clues and establishes a certain solution to the crime that has baffled everyone else. It works like this: a person walks in and Sherlock sees a cascade of details, discolored or chipped fingernails, right or left-handedness, tell-tale crumbs on the clothing, the wear of the shoes, and from these little clues he quickly reaches conclusions about the person in question: where they are from, what they do for a living, where they have been recently, the state of their marriage and more.
Jesus must have been observant, too. Did he look at the empty nets, the calloused hands, hear their grumbles, and build a conclusion that these fishermen presented a great opportunity for the Gospel?
That day I think he had his eyes on these fishermen. Other days his eyes were on other groups, like farmers, tax collectors, marginalized women, desperate people with sickness and disease.
As he walked by the sea … where are the places you walk by, and what do you see? What are you observing about people, their needs and their possibilities?
Here are the places where I typically walk in Byron, where I have opportunities to see people and engage with them: the Post Office, Arrowmart, Trestle Park, and right here at our church. Where do you walk by? What people do you see? Do you see happy people, troubled people, prosperous people, or people in need? How observant are you? How do you engage in conversation? What do you talk about?
This story I love to tell because it changed the way I think about ministry. My friend Jim and I were students at two seminaries in New York City, Protestant for me, Catholic for him. Every so often we would meet to do something somewhere on Manhattan. One day we were walking through the Times Square/42nd Street area, and every thirty feet different guys would aggressively approach with flyers for peep shows. My inclination was to ignore them, but Jim would stop and talk with them. “How’s it going? How’s the family? Are you making a good living doing this? Do you like what you’re doing?” Every one of these guys was caught off-guard by this. No one ever asked them how they were doing. It was fascinating to watch. This was one of the dark corners in the world, and my friend Jim was trying to bring a little light.
If Jesus was walking around Byron and he happened to come across you, what would he see? What would he observe, what would he notice about your needs and your possibilities. Are you the one he would stop and help? What would he ask you about? Are you the one he would recruit as a helper?
We tend to downplay our needs, but every one of us has them. We tend to downplay our hopes and dreams, but Jesus is interested in every one of them.
Here’s another way to get at it. When would Jesus notice you, when you’re at your best, or when you’re at your worst? Jesus approached the fishermen when they were having a bad day. Did he first notice Matthew the tax collector when people were spitting at him? Did he notice Simon the Zealot on a day when he was throwing stones at Roman soldiers? Did he notice Judas picking someone’s pocket?
Jesus sees us at our best and at our worst. When we’re putting food in the food box, and those times when we blame the hungry for their poverty. He sees us when we’re kind and also when we’re mean.
Jesus walked by and saw the fishermen. They exchanged a few words about fishing, and out of that brief conversation they dropped their nets and began to follow Jesus. Immediately
Immediately. We belong to a denominational family of Presbyterians that tends to shy away from doing things immediately. We love to reflect, to ponder, to pray, to study, to form committees, and to consult with experts before taking action. So it often appears that we are overly cautious, we deliberate carefully, we are rarely, even never, impulsive. Sometimes that kind of cautiousness slows us down so much that nothing actually happens.
Maybe you’ve heard this joke: Question – How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer – We don’t know, but we’ll appoint a committee to discuss it and report back at the next meeting at which time it will be discussed and referred back for further study and research. I think the word “immediately” actually seems to defeat us most of the time because we are far from it.
So hearing the word “immediately” gives a special vicarious thrill to Presbyterians. Something actually happened by the sea without study, research, surveys, prayer, or consultants! Most of what we do is incremental, one small step at a time. I am very conscious as a pastor of what happens when I invite people to do something new. You can see how our responsibilities and available time place serious limits on how we respond.
Where are the places in your life where the word “immediately” characterizes something that you do? Your baby cries and you respond. The fire siren sounds and you drop everything to respond. Are there ways to bring the word “immediately” into your spiritual life? Let’s work on that together.
Jesus was walking by and he saw the fishermen. I think he’d been watching them for some time. Jesus was walking through Byron and he saw you. I think he’s been observing you for a long time, waiting for the right moment to approach. Maybe today’s the day!