I’m not much of a fisherman but from what I’ve seen, whether it’s commercial fishing or sport fishing, for fishermen and fisherwomen fishing is never just a livelihood or a hobby. Fishing is a way of life for fisher folk. Fishing is its very own culture.
Culture, at its most basic level, is a combination of the shared assumptions, values and motivations of a community of people. Most of what a community of people do together is guided by their culture. And it’s almost impossible for a community to accomplish anything that isn’t part of their culture. A community can make very careful plans and bring together very capable people, but if their plans do not match up with their shared motivation and values most of their plans will go unfulfilled.
In our gospel reading this Sunday (Matthew 4:12-23) we’re going to hear another story about Jesus calling some of his very first disciples, all of whom, according to Matthew, were fishermen. “Follow me,” Jesus says to them, “and I will make you fishers of men [and women].”
Their new purpose, and their new culture, would now be centered on captivating people with the message of Jesus for the kingdom of God.
But Jesus isn’t just trying to be clever. He isn’t just trying to make a pun. Jesus is calling these fishermen into a whole new way of life, one with a completely different purpose and set of motivations and values than what they had known for most of their lives. Their common culture would no longer be centered around using nets to catch fish for the market.
At the end of this gospel passage we’ll see Jesus carry on with his mission and his new followers through the ministries of teaching and healing. Later in Matthew we’ll hear Jesus describing the other ministries that further the mission of his kingdom - things like peacemaking and the ministries of care and compassion for those in need. But at the centre of it all is the original call, ‘fishing for people’, or which Jesus describes at the end of Matthew as ‘making disciples.’
And it’s the same calling Jesus gives to those who follow him today. It’s the same purpose around which our common life and culture as the Church is meant to be centred. Our shared values and motivations are all meant to be centred around work of making disciples of Jesus.
As we prepare to gather on Sunday, I invite you to think about the culture of our parish. Are the values and assumptions and passion we share (in other words our culture) centred around making and forming disciples of Jesus? Or is our culture as a parish centred around something else, and if it is, what changes might we need to make to bring our parish culture in line with Jesus’ original call?