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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before January 25, 2015


Mark 1:14-20

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

What I Am Learning:

Human beings live in our culture in the same way fish live in water.

The word “culture” is used in a variety of ways. I tend to use it in this way: culture is the core beliefs, values, and vision shared by a community of people. While culture is manifested in economics, politics, sports, religion, literature, and media, culture describes the beliefs, values, and vision, or “worldview,” common to all of these manifestations.

Cultural ideals are expressed in the form of stories or narratives or in storylines that people within the culture tell over and over again. These narratives powerfully teach and reinforce the beliefs, values, and vision of a culture. They shape our imagination about what is recognized as being ideal for human beings. We hear these stories and strive to fulfill the ideals they illustrate.

In a powerful way, cultural ideals form the operating system for human beings.

But sometimes these ideals are less than ideal.

On the lighter side, I am thinking of baseball in the 1990’s. I remember seeing all these talented hitters over the course of a few years blow up in to these huge balloon people and start breaking hitting records. The steroids so many of them took were poison for their bodies, damaging their life-long health.

They did this to fulfill the ideal of winning as what makes for meaningful life.

Think of the stories that are told of winning teams and winning players that support the ideal of winning. We don’t talk about the “losers.” These stories form our human understanding of what it means to be human.

Some took steroids to help them recover from a 162 game season. This inhuman expectation that human beings can play 162 games in a six-month period is itself an expression of a desire to win on the part of the owners – to win more money no matter the cost to the human players.

Of course there are worse examples. Here I am thinking of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Their notion of the ideals of culture includes killing people who are different, beheading journalists and selling human beings into sexual slavery.

This is not just an example of a bunch of bad apples jumping into the same barrel. This is an example of human beings coming under the sway of a culture that says that only an extremist Muslim society is acceptable to God and that anything is okay to make that kind of society.

Fewer would be susceptible to that extremist culture if there were greater equity and justice in the Middle-East. If the US led government in Iraq would have demanded that the Shia led government also include and seek to benefit the Sunni’s fewer would feel the despair that leads them to follow ISIS. But the Shia wanted to win.

The Romans wanted to win, too. And they did win a lot. They told stories of winning over another barbarian land. They told stories about Romulus and Remus and how Romulus killed Remus over where to place a new city. The goddess of victory, Nike, celebrated every win but was curiously absent in as the costs were counted. Nike never wept for the barbarians who never went home after the Romans invaded. She never saw the terror of the children or the hunger of whole nations as their produce was taken off to Rome.

Any culture that says that we must win, or be powerful to be human is called a domination culture.

The problem is that human community can only be sustained by a careful negotiation of the interests of all groups. When one group wins at the expense of another violence is bound to come.

In the gospel story today, Jesus told Simon Peter and Andrew that they would “fish for people.”

This sounds like they are go out there and win by “winning people for Christ” – that is convert people to become part of the church. I think Jesus is getting at something more subversive and more central than that. One of the laws that the Romans instituted was that Caesar owned all bodies of water and all that is in them. Peter and Andrew had to be part of a fishing syndicate that bought a license to fish. Catching even one fish outside of this system was illegal. Caesar collected taxes each time the fish were sold. Again, when you think of Rome, you have think of the mafia with an army.

To fish people out of the water was to fish them out of the control of Caesar, out of the culture of domination that Caesar proposed and enforced.

While culture powerfully forms us, we also have some capacity to resist it and choose allegiance to another culture, to another worldview. We can be fished out of one culture, out of one story of what it means to be human, and into another.

Jesus was not asking Simon and Andrew to get more people in church on Sunday, but to fish people out of a culture of domination - a culture in which we are human if we win over others.

He was asking them to participate with him in liberating people from a culture of domination in which only a few win and most lose, to a culture of mutuality in which we learn to balance the needs of all. This is why he taught us to

  • Love our enemies
  • Pray for those that persecute us
  • Do good to those who hate us
  • Share our food with the hungry

Yesterday we learned from an Oxfam study that the 1% of the richest people will soon have more wealth than the 99%. This last weekend we learned that our environment is quickly moving toward disaster because of the way humans are living. We also learned that human beings are dramatically overfishing the ocean in a way that could lead to the extinction of species.

Just as steroids were bad for athletes and like winning over the Sunnis is bad for the Shia so our own domination culture is creating consequences that will be bad for all of us and bad for all of the earth.

If we ever needed to be fished out of Caesar-owned culture of domination it is now. May Jesus continue to fish us out of that chaotic water, and may Jesus continue to help us tell his story so others might join us in moving from domination to God’s way of mutuality – to what Jesus called the kingdom of God.