Luke 5: 1-11
There are some famous ball players, politicians, and military men who were exceptionally stubborn—some would call them bull-headed—sometimes to their detriment. Here are some examples:
When your commands come from a guy called the commander-in-chief, that pretty much says right there that they’re not up for debate. (No, I am not talking about President Trump. This is about President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur.) The stubborn general sought to bring the Korean War directly to the Chinese via a nuclear bombing campaign. Fearing World War III, President Harry Truman ordered MacArthur to keep his opinions to himself, but MacArthur wanted them in the public debate. So, he mailed a letter criticizing official U.S. policy to the House Republican Minority Leader. When it was leaked, Truman relieved him of command. It wasn’t the first time MacArthur disobeyed a president, either. In 1932, he disregarded Herbert Hoover’s orders by attacking and burning to the ground a shantytown erected in Washington by unarmed World War I veterans demanding an early bonus payment. MacArthur’s stubbornness usually served him well, helping him win several key brave and brilliant World War II and Korean War victories, and the hearts of most Americans. …However, that pales next to what some historians think he would have been able to achieve by dialing down the bullheadedness a peg or two–a presidency of his own. [History.com]
Stubbornness can be a good thing if you’re stubborn about the right things. But stubbornness in the White House, the Senate, and the House also has produced a recent shutdown. Is another looming?
Let’s turn to the Bible instead, for examples of when such attitudes both helped and hurt. In three of the four gospels, the story about a woman who was hemorrhaging blood for 12 years is included.
Now we don’t know anything more specific than what Scripture says, and none of the Gospels give us any clues as to what the ailment was exactly. We don’t even know if she had a rare blood disease that didn’t allow her blood to clot. So she may have had open wounds all over her body….My mind immediately goes to the worst-case scenario. For twelve years! Not only was she suffering physically, but this particular constant suffering automatically categorized her as unclean. This meant she was also cut off from all spiritual activities. For twelve years! This is compounded by the fact that anyone who made contact with her would also be unclean, she was also socially outcast….for twelve years! [Word of Life Bible]
And so, she was determined to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak, not letting other’s repulsion of her keep her from reaching Jesus. What rejection she must have faced, but she was determined to “just do it!”
And then there was Simon, later called Peter. Ah Simon; the headstrong, stubborn fisherman that Jesus chose as one of his prime disciples. That fisherman who was told that he would fish for men … and women. “Simon?” we might ask Jesus. “That’s your choice Lord? You know how stubbornness and bull-headedness can break up the best-laid plans, Lord?” Do you know how much chaos can ensue when people choose their own path in a business, in government, or in a family? My son Matt and his wife Vicki have two boys: Shane and Simon. Shane does exactly what he is told to do most of the time. If we are walking down a sidewalk together and Shane asks me if he can run ahead to the corner, if I say yes, I can count on him waiting at the corner. Then there is their other son. With a smile that has mischief written all over it, and a twinkle in his eyes, he will push the boundaries every time. And … his name is Simon! His mind seems to be on his own choices rather than following directions! The Simon of the Bible certainly showed his stubbornness later in the Gospels when Jesus told him that, before morning, Simon would deny Jesus three times! “No!” said Simon Peter defiantly. And yet, he did it. This time Simon Peter showed his respect for authority even in the midst of an exhausting and discouraging night of fishing. Fishing with nets exhausts the whole body, as nets are cast and dragged back in. He was not yet an apostle, but a fisherman. The Twelve had not yet been chosen, But Jesus and Simon were not only acquainted, Jesus had just healed Simon’s mother-in-law from a high fever. Later Jesus went away to rest, and he finally ended up at the water’s edge. The Sea was called Gennesaret; (also called the Sea of Galilee and the Sea of Tiberius.) While Jesus was re-grouping, Simon had been fishing. Jesus, seeing Simon coming to shore with empty nets, got into his boat and asked Simon to take him out from shore. Simon must have wished he could call it a day. But this, time he did what Jesus asked. He owed Jesus a favor. “Go to deep water” Jesus said to Simon, words captured in our anthem today. “Let down your nets to catch fish” Jesus continued. The old Simon replied: “We have worked all night and caught nothing!” Then the new Simon took hold: “Yet since you ask it, I will let down the nets.” Because Simon did what Jesus asked, there was a benefit; a great benefit: his nets were full of so many fish, even two boats couldn’t hold them all! Simon couldn’t believe his eyes. He had a great catch that would bring a good price. More importantly: he had even more belief in the powers of Jesus: he knew he could heal, and now he learned that he could do things that other men could not.
Jesus “called” Simon and the other apostles. We talk about a “call” as if everyone knows what that is. But I learned differently when I was working on a Doctoral project through Columbia Seminary. Professor Barbara Brown Taylor had given us the assignment to interview the religious leader closest geographically to the place where we served, but it could not be a Christian. Just four miles north of Westminster on Peninsula Drive was Temple Israel with a Rabbi named Amy Mayer. I called and set up a time to meet with her. She toured our facility and I toured hers. I learned a lot from her, but one thing surprised me. “Tell me about your call” I asked her. “What?” She asked. What do you mean?” “You know,” I said, “your call to being the rabbi of this synagogue. Your call like Moses was called, or Isaiah was called.” She looked at me and said: “It was not a call. It was a job. I interviewed and I got it.” It was my turn to be surprised! When I was asked to explain my sense of call to Committee on Preparation for Ministry years ago, I knew how to answer that. But a Rabbi, who shared her story, did not.
The Bible talks a great deal about a call. Dr. Alan Culpepper, when he served as Dean of the School of Theology at Mercer University, wrote:
Peter’s call to leave everything to “catch people” is the counterpart [to Paul] in Acts, where the commission is actually communicated through Ananias. [Acts 9:15] Both Peter and Paul were called dramatically, through a miraculous event, while they were in the midst of their routine activities, and both were given a commission to devote themselves to bringing others to Jesus. [New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 118]
When C. Frances Alexander wrote her hymn “Jesus Calls Us” that we sang today, she clearly suggested that Jesus did not just call the Twelve, and Paul, and a few others, but that Jesus calls all of us to invite people; not catch them in nets, but to engage them with an invitation. Many of the new members introduced at our luncheon two weeks ago said they came in part because they were drawn by the beauty of the facility, but stayed because people made them feel so welcome. Whose life might you change for the better, with just an invitation to follow Jesus at your church?
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 10, 2019