Sometimes our overwhelm results from not being connected in community, from being isolated and thinking we have to go it alone. Jesus offers some wisdom in this human hunger for attraction and connection….
I love it when someone pays attention to me, particularly someone whom I admire or consider to be important. Their graciousness goes a long way to developing lines of communication which bolster my often fragile ego. They provide an opportunity for a creating a new friendship, for a new opportunity to serve in some way, or for an experience of affection.
It’s even more gratifying to receive an invitation from a kindred spirit who invites me to follow in his or her footsteps. There’s a lot I can learn that might add value to my life and work. Sometimes those invitations happen to fit in perfectly with my deepest desires in life.
Jesus once paid attention to a bunch of fishermen. He told them, Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men. (Mark 1:17) This had to have been mind blowing for them. Here was a well-educated rabbi who must have already had some kind of public reputation. After all, his father had been the town carpenter, a skilled craftsman who was indispensible in a world without IKEA. This man of some local status was now calling them, uneducated laborers, to be his followers. They would soon discover that in this invitation would be numerous opportunities for Jesus to bare his life and soul to them. It would be the foundation of community.
When I was in the seminary there was a lot of talk about community, as if it were an experience that could be manufactured as long as certain rules were followed. Chronically missing in such an environment were a few important elements: trust, transparent communication, and honesty. This isn’t to say that these elements were absent altogether. They thrived within smaller sub-groups centered on common interests, intellectual or spiritual pursuits, and a sense of deep caring and consolation. But our common meals and prayer, our attendance at classes together, and even the fact that we slept, studied, and ate under one roof, did not and could not create a single, cohesive community. Rather it was a collection of small communities where intimacy flowered.
We all belong to such overlapping small communities. We find them at work, in our neighborhoods, among family, in churches, while recreating, and in civic life, to name just a few. In them we share a common purpose or activity; sometimes we share deeper commitments of love and affection. Many of them are transient, some we enjoy for a lifetime. Yet if any of our communities are to have a true meaning that will enhance our lives they will require that all involved be in effective communication with one another.
Implicit in every community is the same invitation Jesus offers: follow me. Leadership isn’t something we can force, inherit, or create out of nothing through the latest seminar or workshop. Rather, leadership is the result of just being. We become leaders when we live authentically and courageously. Then people begin to follow us.
As soon as I initiate a conversation on any subject, I’m actually asking my listener to follow along with me, to take my lead, to add to the interchange. Imagine if we all spoke our piece without such a dialogue. Our days would be filled with disconnected statements and questions lacking any sense of cohesion. We’d be bereft of community.
When I left parish ministry I had to have a meeting with the archbishop and his administrator. My encounter with these men was like a series of non-sequiturs, totally unrelated thoughts lacking transparent dialogue, lacking any sense that I was part of a community. There were no real conversational threads I could follow. It all sounded quite scripted, as part of a pre-determined “process.” It was the kind of stylized corporate pseudo-communication familiar to anyone who has worked in a large, impersonal organization and the ultimate cause of my turning away from parish ministry. It clashed with Jesus invitation to follow him and got in the way of my sense of mission.
The second part of Jesus’ invitation was, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” Following one another leads to change: in our lives, our relationships, and our careers. We are meant to affect and change each other. In our encounters we call forth a response. Sometimes it’s a response born of conflict and pain. Often it enhances our humanity. Rarely is it ever merely neutral. It’s like when I offer help to wayward Boston tourists, or feed elderly clients at a meal site, or conduct a support group for sensitive persons I believe in my heart that I am changing lives for the better. I am not simply offering a service or doing a good deed, I am adding value in some tiny way to another person’s humanity. In our brief encounters our perceptions and beliefs shift and we enter more deeply into a mystical bond unity, of community.
What did Jesus mean about becoming “fishers of men”? Much has been written about the missionary aspect of this call, the image of “catching” converts to follow Jesus’ teaching. I believe he was talking about something much more radical though.
The metaphor of fishing for people would not have been lost on this particular audience. He would have changed the image if he were speaking to a potter, baker, tailor, or Roman slave. Today his invitation would catch the attention of a software engineer, a medical technician, or school teacher. The important piece is that he put out an invitation to follow him and then to bring new followers into the fold. He was calling disciples to be disciplers of others. He was creating the beginnings of community.
In this simple invitation Jesus was defining our life purpose as spiritual beings in human form. We are to have the intention of inviting at all times. We are to be mindful of recreating our world one person at a time by calling others to a deep intimacy of community.
But am I beginning with myself? Do I thirst for the intimate communication that goes beyond my fears, beyond my wounds, beyond my expectations? In his simple invitation to follow him Jesus is asking us to be as one with him as he is with God. Then by our transformation we will project the kind of love and openness that attracts others to be so transformed.
All artwork is copyrighted by the artist Michael Parise