Summary: The need for and meaning of repentance
Before I moved to Oregon I use to consider myself a fisherman. I got my license each year and spent many afternoons and days off with a string in the Walker River or Lee Vining Creek. One of the few times I fished here was in my first few years and I went out to the Sandy near Troutdale. Steelhead were running so I thought I might get lucky but the rain left the river swollen, mucky and just not the right environment.
Along comes D F & W officer asking for my license. He looked a little surprised when I asked why he wanted to see it till I said, “I may be doing a lot of things but this ain’t fishing.”
Then men Jesus called to follow him knew fish. It was recreational for them, it was survival. They made their living on the boats, on the lake, tossing, repairing and looking for signs of fish movement. As jobs go it beat being a slave but it was like most work then and now, it was tough sometimes and other times it was freeing.
Into these lives walks Jesus. We know from John that this isn't the first time they met Jesus but it was the time for them to make a choice about what they’d heard and seen. Jesus doesn't ask if they would like to come. Jesus doesn't ask if they’d weigh the pros and cons and get back to him. Jesus gives them a command that they can either do or do not, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And they followed.
The key to their following is found in who Christ is and what he is doing. I just described verses 16-20 for you but what makes this possible is the message that Jesus is proclaiming in the first half of this passage. It is a very simple two part message. It’s time and I’m here.
Todd Skinner was a free rock climber who died in 2006 descending from Leaning Tower in Yosemite. One of his greatest climbs was Trango Tower, a 3,000-foot spur of granite reaching 20,469 feet into the frigid air (Colapinto, 2007) of the Himalayas in northern Pakistan. The climb took months of planning including five days of shopping for food, porters, and travel to the base camp. As prepared as they were for the climb, with all the planning and work that went into this ascent, the reality as they looked at the tower. He wrote,
“…before we had known the mountain only as a picture—palm-sized, two-dimensional, a mere postcard of a dream. The reality hit us like a shock wave. We stopped dead in the middle of the track and the porters had to step around us. Each patted us on the back in passing, for no amount of bluff or bravado could hide the fact that we were absolutely horrified (Skinner, 2003).”
Todd and his teammates faced a challenge they thought they were ready for. After the climb Skinner explained to audiences that “The final danger in the preparation process is the tendency to postpone, leaving till every question has been answered, forgetting that the mountain is the only place answers can be found (Sturt, 2013, p. 162).” There is only one way to do what you’d planned and that was, in Skinner’s words, to “get on the wall”.
“No matter how prepared you are, how honed your climbing skills, how vast your expertise, you cannot climb the mountain if you don't get to it (Sturt, 2013, p. 163).”
Jesus’ call to the disciples and to us is to ‘get on the wall’. There comes a time when we are done with the preparation and we have to live out the life we’ve chosen. These men could have remained fishermen and believed in Jesus. These men could have remained fishermen and thought about what they heard Jesus say and all that they’d heard he did. Or, they could ‘get on the wall’ and follow him and change their future.
Repentance is part of getting on the wall. It is the act of choosing to go 180 degrees away from where you were heading in order to start on a new course. Lesslie Newbigin, Episcopal Priest and writer explained repentance with a story of how a village wanted to honor him as he entered and they expected him to arrive via the southern road. When he entered by the northern road it was a disaster. He wrote, “I had to disappear while word was sent to the assembled congregation, and the entire village did a sort of U-turn so as to face the other way. Then I duly reappeared (Newbigin, 1988, p. 2).” God’s kingdom is at hand but we’re not looking in the right direction. Our focus is on the place, the means, the way, the people we think should be part of this kingdom when in fact, we need to turn around. “You have to go through a mental revolution; otherwise the reign of God will be totally hidden from you (Newbigin, 1988, p. 3).”