Tag Archives: fisherman

6 February: Zebedee, Part II

Mark Rogers’ statue of a fisherman in Mallaig harbour, Scotland

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Zebedee the fisherman of Galilee.

We are looking at a few words from Mark’s Gospel – 9:19-20. I recommend that you scroll to yesterday’s post to catch up, if you’ve just joined the blog. We’re looking mainly at Zebedee, the father of James and John, and I want to start with Jesus’ boldness. Jesus, in this passage, acts like the God he is. He simply summons James and John. He does not ask Zebedee’s permission to take his sons away from the family business, the family home or the paternal expectations. James and John were God’s before they were Zebedee’s. Jesus takes what belongs to him as the Son of God. It is a moment when Jesus acts with breathtaking divine authority.

Zebedee, presumably, was not a push-over; if he fit the description I offered yesterday, he would not have been hesitant to tell Jesus what he thought. Indeed, something in me wants to speak for Zebedee and say to Jesus, “Wait! Stop! What’s going on? ” But then I think, No: I don’t want to say that and I don’t want Zebedee to say that. I know Jesus. I know that he is the Son of God and as such his call takes precedence over all other obligations – even obligations to family, as Jesus himself makes clear at other times (cf. Luke 9:59-62).

Did Zebedee know Jesus in this way, too? Although, there is reason to believe that James and John were cousins of Jesus, and that Jesus was probably not a stranger to Zebedee or the rest of the family, the fact that Zebedee is completely silent when his two employee-sons are suddenly recruited by Jesus is reason for some amazement. No matter what they already knew of Jesus, they did not know what we know – their immediate and total response to Jesus’ command to follow him cannot be attributed to some miraculous foreknowledge that he was the messiah. This was not grasped rightly by any of Jesus’ followers during his lifetime. This makes the response of James and John, and in a different way of Zebedee, all the more astonishing. Perhaps this astonishment is a good place to pause again for twenty-four hours. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for the final reflection.

SJC

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5 February: Zebedee, Part I.

Traditional Northumbrian Coble fishing boat, by Nigel Coates.

Sister Johanna has been giving her thought to Zebedee, a strong silent man of the Gospels, whose sons and later his wife, left all to follow Jesus.

Jesus saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John: they were in their boats mending the nets. At once he called them and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him (cf. Mark 1:19-20. Translation: New Jerusalem Bible).

It’s not often we find editorial comment or attitude in the Gospels. Usually the evangelists simply tell their story and leave us to do the commentary and feel the emotion. But these few lines from the Gospel of Mark seem full of Saint Mark’s feeling – indeed, his incredulity. I think it comes across in line 20 where he says, ‘leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed…’. In these words seem to hear Mark marvelling not only over the response of James and John to Jesus’ call, but also over Zebedee’s reaction to the sudden defection of his sons from everything that Zebedee had prepared them for.

I know something about fishermen. My own father was one, not by profession but by preference: he loved nothing more than to be on a boat with a line in the water, hauling in fish by the dozen. His fishermen friends all tended to be like him: no nonsense men, hard working, a bit earthy, rather outspoken in their opinions, tough-spirited tough-guys with soft hearts. I imagine Zebedee was like that – only perhaps more care-worn than my dad and his cronies, who all fished for recreation, and earned their livelihood elsewhere. For Zebedee, fishing was his way of supporting his family. It was important and it was work, with all the strains and stress work involves. Surely Zebedee expected his sons to do their share, and probably take over the business one day when he was no longer able. He must have been doing pretty well: he had a few employees. But, as we know, to do well in any business takes a lot of hard work, combined with a lot of shrewdness.

Zebedee. For the first time as I reread the passage today, I had a sense of the man. Now, I see him on a specific day, the day his sons leave. This had probably been an ordinary day. Now they were doing their routine net-mending and stowing things away; it was time to stop work; they were weary and ready for a good meal. And suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, Jesus turns up, calls to James and John, and without uttering a syllable, they go off after him. Zebedee, meanwhile, sits in the boat, torn net in his hands, staring after them open-mouthed. The employees all stop their banter, look up from their nets, exchange surprised glances with each other and quickly attend to their net-mending again with a degree of intensity not usually needed for this particular task. Zebedee says not a word about what has just happened. Not now. Not ever, it seems.

I’d like to leave us with that picture of Zebedee for a day and return to our reflection tomorrow.

SJC


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25 August: The seafarer’s chant.

From Saint David’s Cathedral

We wanted to keep yesterday’s post simple for it needs no introduction, no explanation. Dr Maclean gave his own afterword to today’s prayer, so no more from your editors today.

Be Thou Thyself the guiding star above me,
Lighthouse be thou for every reef and shoal,
Pilot my barque upon the crest of sea-wave
To where the waters make no moan or roll.
Oh the restful haven of the wandering soul!

This, is it not a matchless prayer for fishers of every race and age? The Hebridean, with but a plank between him and the seabed, murmured it a thousand times. As he did so, his vision bore him to some still port far from the breaking seas, some secret haven where the green swell is dumb, and children play on the pearl-white sand.

From Hebridean Altars by Alistair Maclean, 1937.

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7 August: praying with Pope Francis, The Maritime World.


We pray for all those who work and live from the sea, among them sailors, fishermen and their families.

noahs-ark-lo-res-shrewsbury-cathedral-window-detail

When he prepared tis month’s prayer intention, Pope Francis cannot have foreseen the hundreds of seafarers who could not get home when their cruise ships were quarantined off shore, passengers gone, wages unpaid, flights home non-existent, welcome on dry land not forthcoming, family contacts eventually by mobile phone, thanks to port chaplains.

But we can pray for them, and for all the sailors and lorry drivers who ferry food and goods around the world and across the Channel, and all those in peril on the sea.

Star of the Sea, Staithes; Shrewsbury Cathedral.

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29 June: In Peril on the Sea: Peter and his wife.

mallaig.fisherman.statue

This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,

The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.

Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?

Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.

Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.

Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.

*Meaning Peter.

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