Peter, Andrew, James, and John—Matthew tells us that these were the very first followers of Jesus. All Jesus did was call to them, and they walked out on their steady jobs into an uncharted future.
Why would they do that? It’s not like Jesus won them over with a well-crafted sales pitch. He kept his words to a minimum, and yet they were willing to turn their own lives upside down. Immediately.
Sometimes we wonder if Jesus had an almost hypnotic personality, sort of like the way we imagine cult leaders. Maybe all you had to do was look into Jesus’ eyes, or hear a word from him, to be totally in his thrall.
Well… Maybe. Or maybe they were more than ready for a change. Fishing may have offered steady work. It could even be lucrative. But maybe it wasn’t their passion. Maybe it was their job, but not their vocation.
A job is what we do to pay the bills and put food on the table. If things turn out well, the job is also our vocation, but often they’re not the same thing at all.
As most of you know, I do campus ministry at Butler University, and all the campus ministers work closely with Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation. So I’m going to give them a nod and use their definition of vocation: ”A vocation is a way of contributing to our world that provides meaning and purpose to you.” A way of contributing to our world that provides meaning and purpose to you.
Fishing the way these first disciples were fishing, with sizable nets to catch a boatload of fish, could certainly contribute to their world, put food not only on their table but on other people’s tables—for a price, of course. And for some people that might have sufficed to give them a sense of meaning and purpose. It was a commendable occupation, nothing to apologize for. Fishing can be a vocation.
But what if you wound up fishing because your family pressured you into it? It sounds like that’s what happened with James and John, maybe with Peter and Andrew also. Maybe nobody ever asked them what they wanted to do with their lives.
I run into that with college students all the time. They choose a major because they hope it will make them financially secure, or because their parents really wanted them to do that, or sometimes because they thought it was the only thing they were good at. But they have no passion for it. It has hardly anything to do with a sense of meaning and purpose, at least not for them. So sometimes they wind up changing majors to something maybe not quite as easily defined. Maybe they won’t make as much money, but maybe they’ll love what they do so much that they won’t miss the money that they’re not making. The parents may take a little persuading, but usually they come around.
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That’s certainly not an easily defined occupation—fishing for people. But that’s all Jesus promised them at the moment. And somehow it captured their imaginations. They found their vocation. Eventually they came to see that their vocation was also God’s vocation—fishing for people, casting a net so wide that everybody would be gathered into reconciling love.
As it turns out, all of us are called to that vocation the moment we’re baptized—fishing for people, gathering people into reconciling love. Yes, of course, you can be passionate about any number of pursuits, and if things turn out well you may even be able to build your livelihood around them. But if you pay enough attention, you’ll notice there’s a “people dimension” to that pursuit. You’ll begin to notice how that pursuit can become a doorway into fostering a space of hospitality. Jesus is calling us to take that part of our vocation out of the background and put it right in front of us—fishing for people, gathering people into reconciling love, fostering a space of hospitality.
That’s what “evangelism” has come to mean for me, and not just for me but for my whole Church. Yes, I’d love to have more Episcopalians. But fundamentally, evangelizing (which means sharing good news) is about fostering a space of hospitality, especially for people who are unsure of their welcome. They may never share your beliefs. But the remarkable thing is that, if they feel safe enough to tell you that, it’s a sure sign you have been doing your job! It’s not about trying to make people just like us. It’s about welcoming people who are never going to be just like us, doing what we have come to believe God has been doing with us all along.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That doesn’t mean you have to change your major or abandon your career. It does mean taking the people dimension of what you’re doing, the hospitality dimension, out of the background and putting it right in front of you. But be warned. That may sound like a little thing, but it can turn out to be life-changing, whether at the beginning the middle or the end of a career. (I was, after all, fifty before I became a priest!) This will definitely complicate your life.
Who knows what may happen as we open ourselves to this call today?