Sermon for Epiphany III – Year B
Grace, mercy, and peace from the God who calls us all. Amen.
Did you ever wonder about Zebedee? The father of James and John, left standing in the boat? As a parent, I wonder what it was like for him. Mark writes the gospel story as if he is writing for the Reader’s Digest, and we don’t get too many details, so I would like to try to fill in the story a little bit. Come along with me for a few minutes and put yourself in Zebedee’s place.
You are a hard worker. You and your partner Jonah have a couple of fishing boats. You think it is pretty funny that Jonah was named after the prophet who was swallowed by a fish. You kid him about that. You two have been fishing in the Sea of Galilee all your lives. You learned the fishing business from your fathers.
In addition to your sons, James and John, and Jonah’s sons, Andrew and Simon, you have hired some day laborers to help you. The fishing is pretty good this season.
Even though it seems like you must be doing fairly well financially, you and your partner are still barely able to feed your families.
You see the tax collectors get you coming and going, literally. They have a toll booth at the dock and they tax you every time you put the boat into the water. They tax your fish, taking a percentage every time you haul in the nets. They tax the guys who haul the fish down to the market and they tax the guys who sell the fish at the market. Every road is a toll road. Every market has a tax collector with his hand out.
These guys are everywhere. And it’s not like tax collectors are honest, either. They take as much as they can get from you and keep the extra for themselves. They give the taxes to Herod and he is nothing but a puppet for the Roman Empire. All the money goes to a very few at the top.
Taxes do nothing to improve the roads or the community or help the people in any way. They just keep everyone poor and hungry. That’s what it is like to live in an occupied country.
You and your partner Jonah and your families are devout Jews. You worship together in the synagogue and you faithfully observe the sabbath every week. You have heard the stories of Abraham and Moses. You know the LORD has promised to give the land to your people. You know the LORD rescued your people from slavery in Egypt.
You have heard the words of the prophets. You look forward to the day when God will send the promised Messiah, a king like David. You pray for the day when the Messiah will rule and everyone will have shalom – that is, health, wellness, and peace.
Jonah’s son Andrew followed a guy named John for a while. John was like Elijah, the prophet. John was preaching for everyone to repent. He baptized a lot of people who believed his message: that if we would all just turn our lives around and follow the law of the LORD, then the Messiah must not be far off.
They arrested John. Seems Herod didn’t appreciate his message about repentance and following the law when it got too personal. Before John was arrested, he pointed to another man, a man named Jesus. He said this Jesus was the one, the Messiah.
Andrew has been talking to his brother Simon, and to your boys, James and John, about this Messiah ever since. They can’t wait to meet Jesus. They are pretty excited. You aren’t sure what to make of this.
What if it’s true? Could the Messiah really be here? What is he going to do? What kind of a reign can he be bringing in? It would be great if the Messiah would overthrow the Roman government.
You could do without taxes. As a matter of fact, you could do very well with no taxes at all. If you didn’t have taxes, your tithe to the synagogue would feed a lot of poor people. So would Jonah’s, and you could fix up your boats and maybe hire a few more workers, giving them steady income so they could buy bread for their families.
You could do without the fear too. It would be great if those Roman soldiers all went home. Hopefully, the war would be brief and victory would be swift. Your people could live in peace and follow the laws of Moses. A messiah, an anointed king, is exactly what you are looking for.
Then it happened. You are in the boat with James and John, mending nets. You can see Jonah and his sons in the other boat fairly close to shore. The young men are casting the nets. Jesus walks by and shouts out to them. He says the Reign of God has come near. They immediately drop the nets and jump out of the boat and off they go with him.
You see them on the beach, coming your direction. Jesus calls out again that the Reign of God has come near, and James and John head off too, leaving you in standing in the boat holding the nets. It happened so fast. You prayed for them all, hoping this Jesus really is the Messiah. Even though it is a hardship for you, you are proud he has chosen your sons.
You wonder now, if they would have jumped out of the boat so quickly, if they had known what they were really getting into. If they had realized how hard it would be to follow him. If they had know he was leading them to a cross.
He wasn’t the kind of Messiah you were expecting. You know now that God had a better plan. God sent Jesus, the Messiah, to save the whole world, not just your place and time. He didn’t come as an earthly king, he came to bring in the Reign of God. With his death on the cross, he overcame sin and death itself. His death and resurrection were for all of us, all of humanity.
Your sons, James and John, learned so much from him. They saw so many miracles, heard so many stories, learned so much about the love of God. They had the privilege of sharing all that with so many others, too.
This Jesus was different from anyone you ever met. He told you once that even though your sons followed him around the countryside as disciples, that he doesn’t just call a select few to follow him. He calls everyone. He said you can be his follower, even if it’s your job to stay in the boat and mend the nets.
You can be his follower no matter what your occupation is. You are his follower when you help the poor and sick. You are his follower when you feed the hungry and work for justice and peace. You are his follower when you share the good news with others, just like James and John and Andrew and Peter did.
You are Jesus’ follower when you teach your children the stories about Jesus and his love for them.
I think Zebedee came to love Jesus and follow him, just as his sons did. May it be so for us and for our children, too. Amen.