Nest or Nets? Matthew 4:12–23 Epiphany 3A /Ordinary 3

nest3Matthew 4:12–23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

There is a poster in popular use to advertise retreats. The picture is usually of a single person in a solitary place, and the caption reads, “Sometimes you have to withdraw from the world to find your place in it.

If we read Matthew chapter 4 carefully we will see that it is a chapter of two withdrawals. The first is Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested. The second is a withdrawal anachoreo to Capernaum by Jesus when he hears that John the Baptiser has been arrested.

Anachoreo is an interesting word. It is the root of the word “anchorite” which describes hermits in general and later came to to specifically describe a form of religious life during the early and high middle ages. At this time men (anchorites) and women (anchoresses) withdrew from society and were cloistered away in cells (anchorholds) usually attached to churches.

In Britain the most famous Anchoress is undoubtedly Dame Julian of Norwich, whose record of the mystical “shewings” given her are recorded in her book “Revelations of Divine Love” which is still in print.

The anchorite was often walled into the anchorhold by the Bishop who at that time would conduct their funeral liturgy as they became dead to the world. The rest of their life would be spent walled in with one window, called a hagioscope or squint, open to the high altar of the church so that they could watch the mass. Another window opened to the street through which food and presumably excrement could be passed and also through which people could seek the counsel of the holy soul inside.

Life for Jesus, as for us, took some interesting turns, didn’t it? Driven by fear of persecution by Herod, in the wake of John’s arrest, Jesus anchorites it to Capernaum, possibly to live a life of solitude and prayer? But that is not to be. One day on a quiet stroll along the shoreline of lake Galilee, Jesus in introverted mode, happens upon some fishermen casting their nets.

I would like to think that there was something in the archetypal symbolism of those fish gathering nets that jarred Jesus out of his introverted seclusion into an extroverted invitation to those early followers to come and “fish for the lost people of the house of Israel and indeed the whole world”

Its as if the anchorite nest was converted that day into missionary nets.

In times of dread and threat, nothing seems more inviting than to wall ourselves off from life threatening humanity.

It is then that we have to balance the hermit and the helper, the monk and the missionary.

Jesus found his largest appeal in a desert country he ran to while trying to avoid his mission.

We will probably experience the same.

“Deep, deep as the ocean…”(Season of Creation 1)

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans which contain 97.5% of the water on the planet.

It is estimated that the oceans formed between 4.6 and 3.8 billion years ago.

Life began in the oceans because of the nutrients that were washed into the oceans and provided the content for primitive unicellular bacteria to develop, so one could say that the oceans are the primordial archetype of God as all life emerged from the oceans

It is probably this archetypical power that explains why the sea holds such a fascination and a sense of deep threat to us all. As Joseph Conrad has it, “The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

At a psychological level, the ocean with its restless surging has often been a metaphor for the unconscious part of humanity. As Carl Jung said, “Consciousness seems like an island surrounded by the sea in which there is a self-replenishing abundance of living creatures.”

The early Hebrews had a deep respect for, and fear of, the sea.

Possibly because they had their origins as desert nomads in the Sinai Peninsula, when they came eventually to settle in Canaan, the Hebrews never became a seafaring nation, despite the fact that their entire western Border was the Mediterranean ocean. The closest the Jews came to seafaring was to be Lake-farers on the Sea of Galilee.

Today’s Season of Creation Gospel locates Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.

At the literal level (always the lowest level of meaning for literature) this is an account of the call of some Galilean fishermen to follow Jesus. That is what I would call the Sunday School level of interacting with the story. Many of us grew up with that level of interpretation and reading the narrative as adults there is the temptation to revert to only that understanding of a nursery bible story. To do that as adults is, I believe, to shirk our responsibility to seek the symbolic depth of this account of human transformation.

What is most haunting in this account is the instruction of Jesus, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It is a command for the fishermen to trust him at the point of their impotence

Now we need to be clear that in oceanographic terms the invitation to go deeper was not a huge ask. The Sea of Galilee has a maximum depth 43 metres, which is within the capacity of a level one scuba diver. To put it is perspective the deepest place in the oceans is the Puerto Rico trench which drops to an amazing 8605 metres!  However, when you are used to keeping to the shallows, any depth is deeper than where you are.

In order to relevantly access this gospel narrative from the context of 2010, I would like to suggest that this passage has the potential for being a profound map for our own transforming following of Jesus.

Would it be too much to suggest that Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.“; could also mean, “Don’t be afraid to explore the unconscious, for there you will find nourishment.”?

  • Is it not true for many of us that our deepening experiences with Jesus happen when we are resting on the shores of our self sufficiency, thinking the work is finished?
  • Or at times when, Jesus invites us to explore something new, against our better judgement. We follow simply because a deeper authority invites us?
  • Many of us will know that when we have responded to the call of Jesus to go deeper we have discovered a harvest from the depths we have not explored before.
  • Sometimes that invitation has meant that we had to encounter and override our fear and resistance
  • Just like those fishermen, these depth encounters have been an equipping for new life tasks, and all because we risked some depth.

I am blessed to live at the ocean. I see the mysterious depths from my window where I write this. Oft times when I gaze at this ancient mass of water, and hear the voice of the surf, I glimpse that like the ocean, God is an unfathomable, mysterious presence of life giving love. I pray that I will always have the courage to risk going deeper into that abbysal love.