Lent 3, 2021: Fishing For People

Please receive this a few days later than I had hoped.

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]

18 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. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.


Spirit of the living God, we pray for all people everywhere who seek to answer your call.  Guide us as we face further decisions and strengthen us when the path of discipleship is difficult. Keep us open to your call in our own lives as we go out with you to invite all to be a part of your kingdom. Give us wisdom and courage to be willing to walk the road less travelled into the hard places of need. Forgive us for our failure of heart and our failure of nerve. We make this prayer in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

One of the things I love about Jesus is that he reaches out to ordinary people when he begins his mission. I’m especially fond of the fact that he called fishermen—not that I’ve ever been a particularly successful fisherman. My childhood friend and fellow PK, Ricky Wiygul was the best I have ever known at catching fish. He always seemed to have the touch to catch fish when no one else could.

I also love how Matthew’s Gospel places before us the high standards for the followers of Jesus. If you read the Gospel of Matthew carefully, you will notice that Matthew doesn’t give us Jesus lite.  Or as a friend of mine said, the diet version of Jesus.

Even so, the gospel, right at the beginning, tells us Jesus calls the ordinary ones, telling them extraordinary things. He tells them he will empower them to do that which he himself does—which is to announce and invite folks into this kingdom.

Biblical scholar Tom Wright writes in his book Jesus and the Victory of God that the two most characteristic aspects of Jesus’ ministry are announcement and invitation. Not only does Jesus announce the advent of God’s promised kingdom, he also invites people to come forward and to be a part of that kingdom. Will Willimon reminds us that Jesus basically has one question, “Will you join me?” Simple agreement with the gospel is not enough. There is always an invitation and a response required from Jesus.

Is it enough to say that without an invitation, without an opportunity to respond in worship, we have failed the Biblical mandate of the Gospel?  Before we are sent into all the world, Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” May I go so far to say that a church that is not inviting may not be fulfilling it’s call to be a disciple-making church. For in the end, our faithful call is to follow Jesus—to be those who fish for people.

One of the models for ministry I learned from my father was to be inviting and to include people in the journey. In every congregation he ever served across 40 or more years of ministry there were always professions of faith and positive growth. Usually, the people who came along side him in the congregations across North Mississippi were ordinary people. 

Upon reflection, he must have learned that from Matthew’s Gospel—Jesus calling fisherman to help him do his work.  Jesus needed these ordinary people to help him.  Then, he issued the call to change. The message of Matthew 4 is: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (vs. 17).

I learned very early in ministry that I could not “see all the people” on my own if the churches I served were to grow. I needed to enlist some help. So every Monday night, a group of laypersons from the congregation I served would join me in visiting. We would go in teams of two. I think Jesus taught that, too.

A friend of mine, a pastor, tells the story of a church he served that took some ordinary people, a couple of grandparents, and sent them into the mission field. They decided at the Administrative Council meeting that they would visit every baby that was born within a mile radius of the church.  They simply drew a one-mile circle around the church.  Then, they voted on which members looked most like grandparents and sent this couple out to visit the babies.  They took a little packet of information about caring for a newborn, a few coupons from local businesses, and some information about the church.

The visiting grandparents were always welcome. They would enter the home and say, “A new baby! You are in for some changes! If you need any help, please call us. We have been in the baby business a long time.”

He said, “What the church lacked in many things, they did have one thing in their favor:  a surplus of grandparents.  We turned that into an advantage.” In a society where the family is in big trouble, just something as simple as grandparenting can be used in Jesus’ consistent call to reach people.

My friend later said, “Here’s what we learned: it goes to show you that when people are terrified they are good subjects for the church’s evangelism.”

Maybe you remember that terror when you were a new parent. You are extremely vulnerable when that first baby comes. You do not know what you do not know. In short, most of us were and are ill equipped to raise a human being. Being desperate for help, new parents are open to the support from the Church. All we have to say is “We care; we can help.”

Maybe you have heard me say that none of us got into the Christian Family on our own. Someone brought us, invited us, or maybe even dragged us to Church. When did Jesus come calling your name? Maybe this is why we need to think about those in our one-mile circle who need a friend. Perhaps, also, you might consider what your gift is that could be shared. A former church member, Nanny Mae Underwood, made a wonderful homemade chicken pot pie. Often she would bake one and take it to a new neighbor with an invitation to our church.  What might you offer? To befriend a child?  To tutor a child in the summer to strengthen their reading skills?

Many of you already know how to do many things but maybe it has not registered that Jesus might use you and your gifts to connect with people, to become fishers of people for the kingdom.

Remember: Jesus calls us to be disciples. He promises that he will teach us how. In that promise we become part of his embrace of the world. In your journey, listen, watch, consider, what God might be calling you to do for the sake of His kingdom.

As we journey this Lenten season, may we listen for God’s holy invitation to fish for people.


Bill McAlilly