Note from CM: Here is another take on yesterday’s Gospel text (though Matthew’s version), one I wrote a few years ago. If anything, my vocational path is clearer, but the “reinvention of one’s self” continues. And I certainly feel even older. The journey continues…
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As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net. Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him.
He went on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat with their father Zebedee, getting their nets ready. Jesus called them, and at once they left the boat and their father, and went with him.
– Matthew 4:18-22, GNT
I like James Tissot’s painting of this Bible story. Though I think the artist overdid it when it comes to Jesus and his clothing, I find his depictions of young Peter and Andrew delightful.
Tissot made visits to the Holy Land in the 1880’s and saw then that fishermen used their nets in the shallows next to the shoreline to catch fish. Believing that the same method would have enabled Peter and Andrew to hear Jesus calling them from the nearby land, he portrayed them in similar position. He also observed that the fishermen wore nets around their waists in which to put the fish they caught so they could carry them easily, and so he included that in his depiction as well.
What I like most about this painting is the way James Tissot has captured the realistic physiques and body language of the two young disciples. You can see their boyish vigor as well as a bit of their eagerness and awkwardness, and you get a sense of their youthful curiosity about the Stranger calling to them — the One who is on the verge of changing their vocation and setting them on a new course for the rest of their lives.
And now I feel old.
I well remember the season when I splashed to shore as a young man, casting my nets aside for Jesus. At that time (believe it or not) I was trim and fit. I was also eager and awkward, ready without question to try anything, to walk any road. With lots of zeal and a little bit of knowledge, Jesus and a lot of gracious people gave me a chance. They didn’t laugh at my youthful appearance, they put up with my childish mistakes, and they were somehow willing to affirm my vocation as a minister. With feet still wet from the lake and a lot of wet behind the ears, I tromped into the church and into their living rooms and we talked about Jesus.
It all felt just as simple as that.
That was over 35 years ago. There are many days now when I wonder if this “follow me” business is strictly a young person’s game. Whatever eagerness I had then too often feels like “been there, done that” now. The awkwardness I currently exhibit is not that of a young athlete coming into his game, but of a man who increasingly looks for the railing to hold on to when descending the stairs. I’ve got shoes on now and they are dry and comfortable, and I tend to be cautious about someone — anyone — trying to change my life out of the blue.
I’ve been thinking these thoughts lately in a kind of mid-life fog. The kids are grown and out of the house. They have climbed up out of the water and are starting to walk their own paths. A lot of our friends have moved on to other things in other places. Our daily work goes on, and though the work is satisfying and meaningful, I can’t help but feeling there must be more out there for me, for us. Perhaps my recent efforts toward being ordained in a different church tradition will make clear a new path, but for now I wait.
This is turning into an unexpectedly difficult transition. I am finding the reinvention of one’s self that accompanies mid-life much more challenging than I ever thought it would be. It used to be pretty clear to me who I was. I was one of those young men in James Tissot’s painting. I heard the call. I looked up. Eagerly, awkwardly, I splashed to shore and went on an amazing journey.
But we’re a long way from the lake now.
I keep waiting for Jesus to pass by this dry and weary place.