Finally we get the calling of the disciples, and it is this extraordinary tale of a great fish-catch. John places this tale after the resurrection. Matthew and Mark just have the calling of these four men as they are mending their nets. John has an entirely different depiction of the calling of the first apostles. But for Luke, it’s here, with this tale of a fish catch.
The fish are obviously symbolic of the catch of the church, the great number of people that these men will gather into God’s net, a mighty harvest of the fruits of the sea. But not every apostle necessarily gathered this crowd of fish. Amidst the fact of the divine call, we often sometimes miss its specificity. How easy it is to look to this story, as so many preachers do, and proceed to say how we are supposed to go out and gather such a mighty harvest of Christian folk ourselves. But are we, in fact, all evangelists?
I notice that Jesus gave them direction: do this. And they, did, and they received a great catch. And they followed and caught even more. But to other disciples, Jesus may give a different message. Indeed, James did not earn such a mighty catch after all: he was the first to by martyred. But if the words of Jesus are correct, it may will be that this martyrdom was the way that James was called to be a fisherman of people, not by evangelism, but by his own passion, his own passive witness.
This is the Calvinist truth: we are all called by God. And the Catholic truth: this calling is sometimes to very serious business, to martyrdom or to great renunciation. I will have none of those nattering preachers who say such nonsense as “None of us are called to martyrdom, but we are called to ...” or “We today are not called to give up all our possessions, but we are called to ....” I wonder, how does such a preacher know that nobody in his or her congregation is called to martyrdom or the renunciation of all worldly goods? No preacher can tell us what we are all called to do or not called to do: whether martyrdom, renunciation, evangelism, marriage, or whatever. The Catholic and Calvinist agree that God’s call is particular and individual.
There is a heresy rampant in the Episcopal Church today which, like all heresies, starts with a great truth, and then distorts it to mean something quite different, often the opposite. The Catechism of the Episcopal Church teaches that the ministers of the church come in four orders: lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. And unlike most churches, we insist on this, and we are experiencing great and wonderful revival of the sense that every Christian is called to ministry. And we call them “ministers” and the work they do “ministry.”
But the heresy now rampant is to turn this around, and start telling people that whatever they are doing is a ministry. The ministers of the church are found in all four orders, but it does not follow that everyone in each of those four is actually a minister! Some of them are falling down on the job, not doing their part, have not counted the cost, and may find themselves on the wrong side when Jesus Christ separates the sheep from the goats. From a wonderful statement that all are called to be faithful, some have drawn the lesson that all are faithful; from a statement that the ministers of the church come in four kinds, some have drawn the lesson that everyone in those four kinds is a minister. They are not. Some are, some are not. All are called to ministry, but not all have heeded that call.
No preacher can say what everyone is called or not called to with any specificity. But one of the tasks of certain ministers is to, individually, help people to discern where God is calling them, and help them to live out the call to ministry which each of us receives. But this task cannot be performed if it has been replaced with the pernicious notion that everyone is already ministering where God wants them to.
Index of Comments on Scripture