Picture This

By: Aidan Rontani

St. John’s, Chico – Jan. 22, 2017

Close your eyes for a moment, just a moment, and picture the scene. There on the shores of the lake. The gravel shifting and crunching beneath your feet. The water lapping gently on the shore. The village close at hand, houses huddled close together near the water’s edge. North, south, east, and west, the rolling hills of the northern country. Were the hills brown, wilting in the summer heat? Or were they green from the cool fresh rain of winter? A peaceful scene, yet there is bustle too. The village teaming with the sounds of animals and people. Here in the borderlands, at the line between two kingdoms. Brother to brother, one side and the other. One son of King Herod rules one side of the lake, another son the other. Traders, travellers, soldiers, and priests. Languages, cultures, folkways, faiths. An ordinary town, on the edge of frontiers. The frontier of a kingdom that has never reached this far. Borders to cross, taxes to pay, shifting rule, shifting allegiances, changing times, all under the rule of an empire so far away and yet so terrifyingly near. But not the village only, there is bustle on the shore, too. Hauling nets, cleaning the fish, mending the boats, mending the nets. A worker’s life. A life of toil, and risk, and dread. Not the deadliest catch, but storms on the sea have taken their toll. A familiar life, a life of generations. Taught by a father, who was taught by his father, who was taught by his father. A real life. A solid life.

When comes the voice, breaking into this world, saying, “Follow me!”

The man walking by…a man like any other, a man like no other.

Saying, “Follow me!” Come and witness the work of the Kingdom of God! Come and witness healing and restoration; come listen to the proclamation and see it in action; come see the meek be blessed and the lowly raised up. Follow this man who will gather a scattered people into a new nation, and see an ancient covenant fulfilled in a way no one had dreamed. The fishermen would go with him and witness all.

In the midst of a mixed land, Galilee of the Gentiles. Once part of the Northern Kingdom, for centuries beyond the reach of the people of Judah. In a land full of foreigners: Greeks, and Romans, and Samaritans, oh my. Called not from the high or the mighty, but from among ordinary folk, hardworking and true. The disciples were called first to follow and to see, to shake themselves loose from the ordinary and to come be a part of something new. To leave that village, to leave those shores, to leave the comfort of that family business, and the security that came from the only trade they knew. In an era that privileges economic wellbeing to all else, where justice itself takes a backseat to funding our lifestyle and that of our family, can we understand what it means to leave trade, to set down our nets, to risk our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor – not for country but to follow the One who calls to us? Will we follow along on the journey by engaging with the scriptures each day, in the Daily Office, in private study, and group reflection? Will we witness all that he was to do, letting it transform us in the seeing? The fishermen did drop their nets. Leaving their family to become a part of a new family, to be a part of something that would change the world and is still changing the world.

But they were not just called to witness…they were called to bear witness, to fish for people in telling the world what they had seen. They need only testify to what had happened in the presence of the Holy One. To proclaim a message that was and is foolishness to their world and to ours, that the Word was made flesh and revealed the heart of God. All that they were to hear and see, they were to repeat and show to the world. Repeat and show! They were called not just to see the kingdom at work in him, or even to proclaim it, but to participate in that kingdom work. To themselves bring healing and reconciliation to the world, to embody the love that they had known in him. Together they would care for those that the empire had left behind, until the day that very empire itself would be brought to its knees in praise of his love. Most of these fishermen would follow him even unto death, in witness to the transforming power of God and to that hope that even death could not extinguish. They would risk all to bring that news to the world, and would turn that world upside down. Lives transformed, empires changed, hope given to the world in a message that comes to this very day to this very place. All because the man on the beach, in the little village by the sea, said, “Come, come and follow me!”

Close your eyes for a moment, just a moment, and picture this.

Here in the midst of the valley. Carpet, and tile, and cement beneath your feet. The town close at hand, where John and Annie Bidwell once made their home amid the trees. North, south, east, and west, the hills and mountains of the northern country. Are the hills brown, wilting in the summer heat? Or are they green from the cool fresh rain of winter? The bustle of a city full of life. Here in the borderlands, where the valley meets the mountains, where red meets blue. Students, professors, rice growers, and priests. Languages, cultures, folkways, faiths. Boundaries to cross, taxes to pay, shifting rule, changing times. Teaching class, writing papers, keeping the books, examining the charts, planting seed. A life of toil, and risk, and dread. A worker’s life. A real life. A solid life.

When comes the voice, breaking into this world, saying, “Follow me!”

What nets will you lay down, what wonders will you witness, what love will you embody, what world are you called to turn upside down?