Sunday, January 21, 2018

Whales And Fishes

Today I preach about whales and fish – very familiar creatures to us who live on Cape Cod.   Many of us have gone on whale watches in Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays to see humpbacks, fin, and even the right whales. These impressive creatures have large mouths – some with teeth and some with baleen.   Leaning over the side of a whale-watching boat out of Barnstable Harbor or Provincetown to get a closer look, we might wonder if we could accidentally be swallowed by a whale if we fell in.  Not a chance. 

Still, have we ever found ourselves in the belly of a whale?  Not literally of course, but feeling as if we’ve fallen into the belly where everything is dark and enclosed – suffocating and frightening.   In other words, have we ever had a belly-of-the-whale experience of feeling unloved, sorrow, depression, anxiety, desperation…addiction in its many forms.   Most of us have. 

Another darkness experience is one that happens when we abandon God.  This can happen when out of fear, pride, or perhaps arrogance, we walk away from God – or at least we try to.  But God is never far behind.

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the whale – Jonah being swallowed by a great fish.  In Jonah’s time whales were thought to be a kind of fish.  Our first reading is about Jonah although this reading does leave out the important part – the beginning of the story with Jonah trying to avoid God because he knew what God wanted of him; but he refused.  He ran away from God in fear.  He was swallowed by a whale. 

When we avoid or refuse God – when we deny God’s presence and love – we are in the whale’s belly.  But when we let God into our hearts, we escape.  When we ask for forgiveness for our sins and the hurt we have caused, we escape. When we repent and change our bad behavior – our evil ways like the people of Nineveh – we escape.

Now, let’s move from whales to real fish and the Gospel in which we hear of fishermen casting their nets into the sea.  Cape Cod is famous for its fish – cod, haddock, scup, black sea bass, tuna, bluefish, striped bass, flounders and of course the great white sharks chowing down on grey seals found along the eastern shore of the Cape, especially off Chatham

We’re also famous for our commercial fishermen setting or towing their nets in the sea.  These men are not afraid to get their hands dirty.  They work hard with their hands and fish at times under the most trying of circumstances – high and crashing waves on wind-blown, rough seas in rain, snow or ice.  These were the sorts of men – and women –Jesus wanted to follow him to preach about the Kingdom of God.  They were the ones who got the job done in far from perfect or ideal conditions and who dealt with daily hardships and dangers.

How many of us have these same demanding qualifications as our fishermen?   Do we look for comfort or do we dig in to dirty our hands?  Perhaps we need some prodding.  Jesus is the one who prods and tells us to dig and get dirty.  He tells us:“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

This business about loving our enemies is hard and reminds us of our Gospel and fishermen casting their nets.  But what happens when fishermen cast, set, or tow their nets?  They catch the good and the bad – fish of great dollar value and those that are unwanted.  Those fish of little or no value are discarded over the side sometimes because rules and regulations say they cannot keep and land them.  These so-called “bad” fish are wasted.

Our reading from Mark tells us we are to be fishers of men and women to, like Jesus, proclaim the Gospel of God.  We do this by widely casting our nets into crowds as Jesus commands. Without prejudice and judgment we gather or catch the “unwanted” as well – the poor, the outcasts, the addicted, the lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the unwelcomed – the mentally challenged or ill.  We are not to ignore and discard them – to waste them.  Jesus didn’t.  In fact, he sought them out.  He targeted them.

Today’s political conversations are coarse and upsetting with many young men and women born and raised in the United States being threatened with rejection, removal and return to countries foreign to them.  Jesus wanted communities where strangers were welcomed; where the hungry were fed; and where the sick were cared for. We suspect Jesus would approve of our being fishers of immigrants and refugees.   

How do we know this?  Let’s consider a week-old January 12 statement from the Office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The statement reads: "Reports of recent disparaging remarks about African countries and Haiti have aroused great concern. As our brothers and sisters from these countries are primarily people of color, these alleged remarks are especially disturbing.  All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and comments that denigrate nations and peoples violate that fundamental truth and cause real pain to our neighbors.  It is regrettable that this comes on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and could distract from the urgent bipartisan effort to help Dreamers and those with Temporary Protected Status.  As a vigorous debate continues over the future of immigration, we must always be sure to avoid language that can dehumanize our brothers and sisters."

With that said by the Bishops and supported by Pope Francis, let’s cast our nets widely in our communities and beyond and not be afraid of who we catch or rescue in the name of Jesus – our Christ.

Deacon David Pierce

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