In the Episcopal Church, the collect for the third Sunday after Epiphany focuses our attention on the task of preaching the Gospel. “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
As Christians, we are called to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. And in so doing, we pray that we and the world will see God’s glory. This is a hopeful prayer, and we all need hope.
The readings appointed for this Sunday are full of hope in God’s work through us. Isaiah (9:1–4) prophecies that Galilee will be the site in which God’s glory becomes apparent to the nations. Isaiah describes that glory as a great light that will emerge from the darkness, as a cause for rejoicing amongst those who are in anguish, and as a relief from oppression and hardship. What Isaiah is describing is salvation, but the emphasis is on the Savior, the one who shines the light, the one before whom the people rejoice, the one who breaks the yoke of oppression. Isaiah’s eyes are on God, and he wants the people to be similarly disposed.
Likewise, the Psalmist (27:1, 5–13) not only sings a song of praise to the Lord, but also seeks the Lord. He refers to the fair beauty of the Lord as something to be witnessed. He calls the Lord his light and salvation. He encourages all to listen to the voice of the Lord. Like Isaiah, the Psalmist rejoices in the Lord’s salvation; and like Isaiah, he emphasizes that the Lord is the source of that salvation. The Psalmist even goes so far to describe the Lord himself as that light and salvation.
So when we get to our New Testament readings, we should be ready to hear Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to not lose sight that the gospel of salvation is not a matter of political parties within the Church. Rather, it is about the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our salvation. The Corinthians had become superficially divided into camps of devotion to Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, and had even turned the banner of Christ into a sign of one of those factions. Paul rejects such partisan and divided behavior. Christians should be united in the same mind, he says. Channeling the similar spirit and focus as the passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, Paul says that that mind is in fact Christ’s mind. We aren’t simply to adopt the attitude of what-would-Jesus-do. Rather, we are to somehow have Christ’s mind in us. The way we do this, he says, is to proclaim Christ, not ourselves.
Matthew introduces a new metaphor for such a way of life: becoming a fisher of people. Jesus has just preached his message of repentance, metanoia, a change of mind, a rejection of attitudes, actions, and dispositions that are violent, uncharitable, and self-serving, those things that cause us to reject God and others. Instead, Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God. He challenges the people to embrace the Kingdom as a different way of life.
Fishing for people is the first of many actions that Jesus commends as the way you become a person of the Kingdom of God. The use of a metaphor from commerce and manual labor is interesting. It entails that there is work to be done: fishing is difficult and laborious, exposing the fisherman to the elements, often for long periods of time; and it’s risky work—sometimes the fish don’t bite and you return home not only empty handed and hungry, but with no fish to sell at market. From this perspective, fishing for people sounds worse. Yet, the disciples give up their businesses and families to follow Jesus.
In today’s culture, we can perhaps appreciate why Paul calls such a manner of life that is oriented toward Christ’s cross “foolishness.” It looks like bad business. It looks like bad politics. It looks like death. And in fact, it is. It’s death to self. Death to self doesn’t sell. It doesn’t win elections. It doesn’t make you powerful. But it will unite us and make us like Christ.