EPIPHANY 3, B,
"As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him."
This portion of Mark’s Gospel story is so stark in its simplicity that it has leaves me saying – "Wait a minute!! Are you serious? There must be more to it than this!" It’s hard for me to imagine someone dropping what they’re doing and walking off.
Close your eyes for a minute. Visualize yourself at some point in a typical work day: at your desk, at the sink, in front of a classroom, waiting on a customer, reading in your favorite chair. There’s a knock at the door. When you answer it or look up, there’s a man standing there, dressed much the same as yourself, a stranger perhaps, or someone you know by sight. He looks into your eyes, says, "Follow me," then turns on his heels and walks away. What do you do?
Now open your eyes and consider. What would it take for you to walk after him right then and there – no questions asked, no appointments cancelled, no spouses or families notified, no projects finished, a customer left standing, or, heaven forbid, dirty dishes in the sink and the front door standing open? Can you imagine anything that would make you do what the disciples did?
If this were an Advent Gospel we could look at it as another example of the lessons in the "Watch out! You never know when the Lord will show up" genre. But this is the season of Epiphany and in this story the Lord not only shows up, he calls people to a new life and a new life’s work.
The only way this story makes sense to me is as an Epiphany story. By that I mean, the only explanation of the disciples behavior is that when Jesus came to them on the seashore, they had an Epiphany experience.
In terms of personal experience I think of an Epiphany as one of those "ah-ha!!" moments, when you have a flash of insight, or suddenly understand a problem or its solution. Remember Archimedes sitting down in his bathtub and shouting "Eureka", which means I have found it, when he understood in a flash the concept of the displacement of water? That’s an Epiphany moment.
Most break-throughs, whether intellectual, emotional, or spiritual, happen in this way. I know that you have all experienced moments like this when you finally "get" it; something goes "click" and everything falls into place. And I say finally, because I often realize, after the Ah-ha moment, that the answer, solution, insight, or whatever, was pretty obvious, but I hadn’t been able to see it. Once I do see it, my view of the world around me is changed forever – maybe not in big, significant ways, but changed nonetheless.
I think that’s what happened to the disciples on the shore of Galilee that day. In this instance, the Epiphany was a big one, a significant one. To a greater or lesser degree they saw Jesus for who he really was. The experience was powerful enough to make them leave their work and follow — without questions, without conditions.
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? We have heard about cult leaders who through the power of their personality can draw people into total obedience. I believe that Jesus had such a powerful effect on people because he manifested the incredible love of God for everyone he met.
Have you ever tried to describe your own Epiphany experience to another person? I have tried and it seldom works. It often sounds kind of hokey — especially to 20th Century ears. The writer of the Gospel doesn’t attempt any explanation, which I think makes the story more powerful than additional words could. This was a life-changing experience and the best way to describe that is to describe the new life, which is exactly what the Gospel proceeds to do.
Another aspect of Epiphany experiences is probably as hard to describe or talk about as the experience itself. What I’ve noticed about those "Ah-ha" moments is that it’s often impossible to explain in any logical way where they came from or why they occurred. You usually know they happened, but can’t say why or how.
Let me take a simple example. You’re at a party. You see John hand Susan a drink and almost in a flash you know there’s something more than friendship between them. After the party you tell your spouse what you "saw". What’s the response ?? "Well, what did you actually see? Did John hold her hand? No. Did he whisper in her ear? No. etc. You cannot prove or justify your knowledge, but still you know. You are certain. What is often called intuition or female intuition in our culture and is often disparaged because it does not lend itself to scientific inquiry, in older cultures was called insight or vision and was honored as a gift from the creator.
Many of the poets of the early 20th Century struggled with understanding the Epiphany experience. Most of us think of T.S. Eliot as the author of The Wasteland, but there is a whole body of Eliot work written after he became an Anglican. In the Four Quartets, he deals with a series of Epiphany moments, which he describes as the intersection of the timeless with time.
Another way to think of this: we live in a temporal world, measured out in hours, seasons, lifetimes. This is the world of scientific inquiry, of things that are knowable through the 5 senses. But there is also a spiritual world, a timeless, infinite realm that is not knowable in the same way. Yet every now and then we get a glimpse of it, some sense of its reality.
Eliot says that actually apprehending the point or moment when the timeless intersects with time is the occupation of the saint:
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,…
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual, . . .
What the disciples saw that day was some glimpse of the Incarnate Jesus. When he said "Follow me", they dropped what they were doing and obeyed. I’m afraid I would have said, "You’ve got the wrong boat. You must be looking for Marcus. He’s just down the beach."
I believe Jesus calls us all to his service, but luckily most of us are called to serve where we are and we have years, not just moments, to apprehend the Incarnation and to obey his call to a transformed life.
Let us pray:
Dear God, open our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds to your call. Give us the courage to respond like Samuel did, "Here I am, Lord." Give us the will to do the work you have given us to do, like the disciples did. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen