Fifth Sunday of the Year. Fr Duncan Campbell preaches on leading and being led.
Jesus drew the crowds. He was an inspired speaker. He could make things exciting and possible. The people couldn’t read, so he summarised everything for them.
For instance, the psalms, hymns sung by the choirs in the temple and recited at meals and on other occasions of the home of the devout: he shortened all 150 of them into what we called the beatitudes—happy are the poor, the meek, the merciful, and so on—saying in a few words exactly what is sung in all the psalms.
He summarised the whole of the Law and all that was said by the prophets as love for God and for each other. He wrote the whole Bible, you might say, on the back of another envelope in his prayer, ‘Our Father…’, that people could remember, couldn’t forget.
He was so confident and familiar with God’s love for us that it seemed he could heal people in every kind of distress and sickness. So he drew the crowds.
He was so impressive that when he turned to the fishermen whose boat he borrowed for a pulpit, and suggested they fish again in spite of what had been a bad time for it, they did so—a carpenter telling experienced fishermen to fish, in broad daylight too. With amazing results.
Even more amazing, the chief fisherman, Simon, was so impressed and frightened that he asked him to go away. This wasn’t allowed. Simon was told to come away and start fishing for people.
Now this can sound wrong, today. We don’t like a word like ‘fishing’. We ‘fish’ for compliments, for example. Anything ‘fishy’ is doubtful. We don’t like to feel ‘caught’ like fish—to be swallowed, after all! So too his talk later of lambs needing shepherding isn’t exactly a compliment to the rest of us. Who dares undertake to shove or even show others round these days?
When we run into difficulties like this, we can give up and drop the whole matter. Or we can start thinking and revising our ideas and finding new ones—like a surprising number of fish.
It is good and natural to be together. Plants thrive, trees in a forest or flowers in a border. Fish in a shoal are safer, sheep in a flock too – and warmer! Still, we don’t like the idea. We like to be ourselves, by ourselves, especially these days, when we can.
We have to realise that we are never by ourselves. We are always in a crowd, without knowing it. Even so, many people wanting to be by themselves is a crowd!
In the Gospel story, Simon Peter wants to be left alone, but he is in a crowd—the crowd of sinners. He, and we, can be rescued from these crowds by getting into the ‘right’ crowd. How do we do this? I would suggest: by following and listening to the people who tell us the truth about ourselves.
Jesus began by telling people to ‘repent’ for God’s kingdom or presence is near. This either means nothing to you, or means a lot. You may feel quite satisfied and even pleased with yourself. Young people, healthily, often do, which is why so few young people will follow this. Or you may not feel comfortable with yourself, and read on.
If we must change, we can change. Or, if you like it another way, if we can change, we must change. If we need help, we can be helped. Or, if we can be helped, we need help. And help is there.
We know so little, even about our own bodies, for instance, or our minds, or our histories, or our future. We need guidance even about what to eat and drink, exercise to take, attitudes to have. We need directions: in traffic, etiquette, career, cooking, home-making, love-making, you name it. This common sense humility is an important start.
The Gospels go further. They are full of the disciples’ humility. It was a humiliation just being with Jesus; even more so, ending with betraying and denying and deserting him—returning to him humbly in the end, to be instructed to find Churches, crowds of people with the mind and in the same spirit, all over the world.
Most people don’t join these Churches today (‘They just want your money’) and this is a pity—for them. Even the money; you can see it as contributing or, as they say today, becoming a stakeholder in something good: usually, a lovely building, an providing a spiritual carer in your locality, one much needed too. It is a sharing in leadership—you will find most priests ready to talk, even welcoming your suggestions. If not, write to the bishop.
Leadership in religion, fishing, shepherding, is a sort of running knot. Sometimes you may have to be led. Sometimes you may have to lead. That can be even more frightening and annoying and troublesome and humiliating than being led.