Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter we celebrate, Good Shepherd Sunday. But have you ever noticed that we never celebrate Good Fisherman Sunday.  And we should, after all, fishermen are a lot funnier than shepherds. Even during the pandemic, fishermen still drew the most laughs. Did you hear about Covid era fishing tournament?   I heard it was completely on- line.  Did you have a good stream to catch it?  I don’t know why all the fishermen were complaining about the corona virus.  Frankly, they never caught anything anyway.   A friend of mine quit his fishing job during the pandemic. He couldn’t cope with the loss of net income. Another friend lost his job at a fishing supplies company. He was working alone and opened a whole can of worms.

You do have to wonder, why Jesus broke with the biblical tradition of calling shepherds to do God’s work. All the great leader of the Old Testament were shepherds. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Jacob was a shepherd. In Psalm 23, one of the most beloved psalms, King David famously wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Scripture itself refers to God’s people as his flock and the sheep of his hand. Now, it’s not like shepherds had disappeared from the scene by the time we moved from the Old to the New Testament. After all, there were shepherds abiding in the fields and tending to their flocks by night who were told the good news of the Messiah’s birth. Even Jesus referred to himself as the “Good Shepherd.”

So if we know that the first four disciples were fishermen, and based on the cities they called home, as many as 8 of the 12 were fishermen- and not one disciple was a shepherd, why isn’t there a Good Fisherman Sunday?  Was it simply just by chance that Jesus invited fishermen to be his first disciples, or was there something more?  That is what I would like to explore this morning and what those fishermen can teach us today.

There is a myth among Biblical scholars that the fishermen Jesus chose to be his apostles were all poor and uneducated, and that the Sea of Galilee was a remote and neglected corner of Palestine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Galilee was a rich, diverse, and cosmopolitan territory- and had always been so.  It stood at the crossroads of East and West, North and South, the Jewish world and Gentile.  It was for that reason Jesus’ chose to set up his new home along the Sea of Galilee.  Frankly, it had more to do with mission than location. In St. Matthew’s gospel, we read, that when Jesus first heard that his cousin John had been arrested, he withdrew to the Galilee.  He left his home in Nazareth and made his new home in Capernaum by the sea.  For there, in the Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the prophet Isaiah had pronounced, in the Galilee of the Gentiles, a light will dawn. And Jesus was that light. So he began to proclaim the good news, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Those who heard the message first were inevitably fishermen.

Truthfully, it would have been more surprising to the people of Galilee if Jesus’ first disciples weren’t fishermen. Fresh-water fishing along the shores of the Sea was a profitable and noble profession, and the region’s most important industry involving fishing, salting, smoking, packaging and export. The names of the cities themselves suggested the fishing trade.  The ancient city Bethsaida meant “house of fishing,” and Magdala, the city known as the home of Mary Magdalen, meant “city of towers,” referring to the towers erected for smoking fish.

Simon, Andrew, James and John, may not have any scholastic degrees nor university training, but as fishermen,  they were industrious and independent. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, who once served as the governor of Galilee, recorded that there were hundreds of fishermen just like them along the Sea of Galilee. On that tiny sea only 13 miles long, 230 fishing boats were registered and regulated under the Roman government.   The fishing boats often had a crew of five: four to row and one to steer and supervise the catch.  The boats could carry a half a ton of fish and during the deep water fishing season, two or three boats would work together to set up a net between them and chase fish into the net.

Fishermen along the Sea of Galilee fished for three main species, St. Peter’s fish, today’s tilapia, carp, and catfish, and there in, lies their success. The Jews did not eat catfish because it was considered “unclean,” as it did not have fins and scales, however, the Gentile communities who lived on the eastern side of the Sea delighted in them. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee was strenuous work that needed major organization.  Surprisingly, it also required speaking skills in both Greek, Aramaic, and Latin.  Which is why Jesus called the fishermen first to share in his message that the Kingdom of heaven is near.  They freely crossed between the Jewish and Gentile worlds. They had other attributes that were important as well which Jesus recognized. They were used to working together and knew the importance of teamwork, each playing his own role and contributing to the greater good. Yes, when Jesus called the first disciples to help him proclaim his message, and said “Follow me,” he chose these fishermen precisely because these bright, hardworking, robust, independent men could be the foundation of his Church going out to the ends of the earth.

I imagine God still calls fishermen today, but more likely he is calling people that look a lot like you and me and who hold a variety of professions and vocations. Jesus called the fishermen to become fishers of men, all because they were living in a vibrant fishing community, just as I believe, he calls lawyers to be lawyering lawyers and examples of faith to lawyers, and he calls teachers to be teaching teachers and witnesses of faith to the communities where they live and serve.  It is how Jesus calls each one of us to be his disciples.

Now you may think you cannot learn many transferable skills from these 1st century fishermen, but I believe that they still embody three important qualities that are worth study and embracing. They are patience, persistence and preparedness.

As fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John were bountiful in patience. It was the mark of a good fishermen. Night after night  these men went to the sea. Night after night they launched their boats and cast their nets.  And many a night, they returned empty.  They knew that schools of fish swam deep in the waters of the Galilee, but they also knew that it was necessary to remain patient.  Unlike a shepherd, who simply keeps track of his own sheep, a fisherman is always visiting new water. You cannot track or trail a fish, but you must wait patiently for it to draw near and come to him.  The same quality of patience is true for a Christian disciple.  You cannot pursue a friend or relative who has not heard the good news.  You cannot trail a non-believer until they flee.  But you must patiently wait until the sweetness of the gospel has turned them to you.  You must wait patiently until they are ready to hear and embrace the word of Christ in you. A Christian disciple like a fisherman must be patient.

As fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John were driven by persistence.  A fisherman could not rest from his labors.  Night after night, he went out to the sea, and day after day, he returned to land to prepare for the next night. He marked a new course.  He noted the rising of the sun and moon.  He studied the movement of the wind and waves.  No night or day was ever quite the same- for when the hour was near and the fish were swimming, the fisherman needed to be there.  The same quality of persistence is true for you.  A disciple sharing in the gospel, you must always be and persistently thinking and dreaming of new ways “to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”  You must be persistently striving to find a new believer, and a new way to restore a fallen soul.  I once knew an old pastor who said, “My favorite moment of the week is drying the Sunday dishes and putting them back on the shelf.”  It didn’t matter that they would be dirtied again the following day. But for one brief moment the persistent pastor’s work was done.  A Christian disciple like a fisherman must be persistent.

Finally, as fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John were always prepared and preparing for the next catch.  A fisherman needed to be prepared for the following night.  He mended his nets before he set out.  He tarred the bottom of the boat before it was launched into the sea.  He readied provisions before the night began.  The same quality of preparedness is true for the Christian.   You cannot meet the aggressors of the Christian faith until you have prepared for the battle yourself.  You cannot provide the answers of scriptures, until you have read the words yourself.  You cannot speak of the power of prayer, until you have embraced its strength yourself.  A Christian disciple like a fisherman must be prepared.

My friends, we may not celebrate A Good Fisherman Sunday, but the fishing motif was so strong that the Greek word for fish (ichthus) came to represent Jesus’ name and continue to be a symbol of the Christian faith.

So what are the gifts and talents that God has given you?  What are the qualities that he has empowered you to use here and now?   You may be more like the fishermen than you think. Be assured God will not ask you to do more than you can or are able, but in the process of doing his work, you will be changed. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.