Sunday, January 22, 2012

fish first or first fish

Moses, our second-born son, heard the gospel reading from the lectionary this week in a way that I had never heard it before.  He heard the familiar line from Jesus' call of James and John (Mark 1:16-20) not as "I will make you fishers of men", as it has been traditionally rendered, but as "I will make you fish".  That is, because of the way in which the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the line--"I will make you fish for people"--Moses took "fish" not as the verb but as the direct object of the verb "make".  In other words, Jesus was not going to make James and John to be fishers of or for people, as the Greek literally has it, but as "fish", presumably to be eaten by "people".  "Come after me, and I will make you into fish--food--for people."

Though our son's interpretation is not textually defensible, I find it, on the other hand, theologically primary, of first importance.  Indeed, Moses' interpretation implies that the method and the means--how we fish--precedes our desired end--the people for whom we fish.  That is not to undermine people; on the contrary, it is precisely to value them above all else--so much so that we ourselves seek to be made by Jesus into something which people might taste and live, food which will actually nourish and not poison people.

I sense, also from my experience in South Africa, that the way in which the church has called people to Jesus has often been out-of-step with the longings of people outside or on the margins of the church to be embraced and loved by God.  And that what the church needs in our day is first to be made and remade truly into fish before we begin to fish.

That, in the end, is not only the theologically but also the broader textually appropriate interpretation; Jesus called, taught, and embodied for his disciples the true way of life before he sent them out to "all the world" (Mk 16:15).

-Joe

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