Abandoning the nets

Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Simon whispered to Andrew, “Do you know what the dude’s talking about?”  Andrew said, “No clue, but if I have to mend one more net, I’m going to turn into a drooling lunatic.” “Yeah, man,” Simon said, “I’m so over this job.”]  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  (Mark 1: 17-18, Dead Sea Gen-X contemporary interpretive edition)

One might reasonably ask (as amply demonstrated by my parents, my husband, my boss, my coworkers, concerned friends, and myself every time I reflect overlong on my bank account) why someone at the top of her game professionally would suddenly abandon her career and start all over in this crummy economy, with an upside-down mortgage, and pre-menopause looming like a flaxseed-dipped Oreo on the horizon?

Before I get into the symbolic significance of nets and a 700-Club-meets-Wayne’s-World joke, my top 5 reasons for abandoning my own nets at this unlikely point in mature adulthood are as follows:

  1. I just turned 40 – a number of profound spiritual and professional significance.  40 days and nights of rain, 40 years in the desert, 40% off most titles purchased from Ingram Book Group.  Coincidence?  I think not.
  2. I strongly suspect the desire to become a minister is similar to the desire to be a professional river guide – you must possess a sparkling combination of mild madness and not enough information.  I’ve got both. 
  3. “Seminarian” rhymes with “librarian.”  Coincidence?  I think not.
  4. I have a lot of ALA conference tote bags, but what I’m really jonesing for are vestments.
  5. I was just making too damn much money as a librarian

Now, I could have said, “I’m answering the call,” but I have a problem with this answer for a couple of reasons.  First, it makes you sound like a mealy-mouthed God groupie.  Picture Pat Robertson scouring CVS stores and 7-11s because Manafest wants a thousand brown M&Ms or he won’t go onstage at the LifeLight Festival.  Secondly, what does that even mean, “answering the call?” 

In terms of spelling out the real-world mechanics of “the call,” the Hebrew Bible’s got it all over the New Testament.  The best calls aren’t very subtle; they generally consist of God issuing proclamations or directives.  Consider the following:

  • God tells Abram/Abraham, “Seriously, I’m going to make you a great nation,” followed with a wink and a nudge and, “I’ll prove it to you.  How’s this for a sign?  See your wife over there?  Two words:  fertile Myrtle.”
  • After Moses croaks, God promotes Joshua, saying, “Yo, you’re up.  Don’t suck.”
  • Speaking of Moses, you’ve got to give style points for that whole burning bush business.  (I mean, even the special effects from The Ten Commandments still look good and that movie’s over fifty years old.)
  • Isaiah has a vision of seraphim and a near-nervous breakdown, some angel courts a felony menacing charge by waving a hot coal in his face, and then God himself asks, “Gee, I wonder who around here should be a prophet?”
  • Noah’s call takes the cake.  He gets frickin’ blueprints, a sailing itinerary, and a passenger list.  Brilliant.

Similar info in the Gospels is pretty thin.  The drive-by accounts of Jesus’ staff recruitment process feature only five of the disciples (only four of whom will be treated here – wait until April for commentary on Matthew).  And compared to God, Jesus is a salesman of few words.  “Come with me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

What…that’s IT???  Seriously??  Where’s the burning hot coal, where’s the critter parade, where’s the brush fire, where’s the wink-wink, nudge-nudge?  Where’s the page-long divine proclamation, where’s the apocalyptic imagery, where are the MIRACLES, for heaven’s sake?

The call, I think, involves two components – an invitation and a kick in the ass.  The kick can be subtle – we don’t really know what the kick was for any of Jesus’ disciples (which will not keep me from speculating in the next paragraph) – or it can be, shall we say, not so subtle.  For example, “I’ll be wiping the human race off the face of the earth soon.  Build a boat.”

Maybe Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been considering a career change for a long time and the job description, “fishers of men,” sounded like something they were qualified for.   Not so much a mid-life career change as a mid-life career scoot.  Maybe it sounded like a step up on the career ladder – after handling fish for years, healing lepers didn’t sound so bad.  (“At least I won’t go home smelling like FISH every day!”)  Or maybe they’d been mending nets for so long in the hot sun, “fishers of men” sounded like “pitchers of gin” and pitchers of gin sounded like a TERRIFIC idea. 

“Did that guy just say he’d make us pitchers of gin?  Whoo hooo!  TGIF, guys!!!”

Whatever the kick in the butt was, upon receiving the invitation, these guys abandoned their nets, literally and figuratively.  They surrendered the task at hand and, with it, financial security and (in James’ and John’s case) family.  Fishing nets done with.  Safety nets – gone.  The story doesn’t spell out why they did it.  Maybe the invitation simply came at the right time. 

Or maybe they were just sick to death of fish. 

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

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