Reflections on Epiphany 3, year A by The Rev. Margaret Rose
Matthew’s recollection of the call of Jesus to Simon and Andrew, James and John is one which might well make every woman cringe. As the text has it, the men were on shore, doing their work, minding their own business—presumably well adjusted, not looking for a better life or a new adventure, perhaps planning to head home for dinner as soon as the sun went down. A stranger ( we have no written record that Jesus was yet known in these parts.) walking along the beach addresses them with great authority. “Come , follow me. And I will make you fish for people.” Moreover, we will tell the good news of the kingdom everywhere we go and cure every disease. With these words, immediately, the text says, Peter and Andrew dropped their nets. Immediately James and John left the boat and their father and followed him.
Perhaps they were young men without families. We do know that James and John were fishing with their father. But imagine the effect that might have on a community who depended on the fishing of four men of the village.
At least with James and John, it is reported that their father was there to go back and tell the rest of the family where the brothers had gone. Imagine what it would be like if your husband or wife or daughter or son failed to come home one evening and around town the word was that a stranger had come by with the radical notion of preaching good news. And your loved one had gotten into the car and gone. No good byes to anyone. We would send out a posse or at least call the police.
Upon reflection, from our 21st century perspective, we could equivocate and say, Oh, times were different then. There was always the hope of a Messiah to arrive and the Jews were waiting expectantly. Or more practically, there were not the same financial commitments and distances were traveled on foot. But there were families and mouths to feed. And there is no doubt that this must have been disquieting to families and indeed to those disciples who left seemingly without a look behind.
This call to follow, this commitment to Jesus caused them radically to reorient their lives. With hindsight we who now hope to be disciples are glad they said yes. But as we calculate the cost, I suspect it was still the women who were left to carry on. As far as we know, it was not the women who left everything to follow. I am aware of my own mixed feelings as I attempt to faithfully follow this one who calls us from a place of comfort and reorients our traditional responsibilities. Time and again, the story of Jesus and his relationships remind us that Jesus was really not a traditional family man.
So what of the women? We do have their stories. Often unnamed, there were many who traveled with Jesus though their call is not recounted in this stark way by the evangelists. More often we hear the stories of their faithful home life or that of the Samaritan women whose response to Jesus’ living water made her the first evangelist. Or they were present as Lydia was to invite the disciples to her house and to baptize her family. They often remained to receive those who traveled with Jesus and to offer hospitality. And later on of course, as the church was in its early days, they hosted the house churches and presided at the tables where bread and wine became the Eucharist.
And like Chloe, in 1 Corinthians, they were disturbed by the disagreements in the church and called on Paul, their founder to help set them straight.
It is not often Paul provides the text for a feminist reflection. Like many of you I am schooled in what Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza called the Hermeneutic of Suspicion. Usually I am railing against Paul’s admonition that women keep silent or his claim of some theological notion called male headship. But on this third Sunday after Epiphany, he has it right. This first letter to the church in Corinth reminds us that there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit. And that the members of the body---literally and figuratively all have gifts and functions necessary to the working of the whole. There is no part of which one might say, “I have no need of you.” In Corinth, a church founded by Paul, ecclesiastical differences threatened to split the church. Not so much related to doctrine as to personality, Paul calls on the whole body to focus on the one who unites them and not on the particulars of the special qualities of their baptizers. He rails against the special interests and tribal aspirations that can arise when the focus is on the one who was the catalyst for conversion and not the work of discipleship to which the conversion calls.
The “whistle blowers” in this case are Chloe’s people. The church, gathered at her house, did what was needed to set things straight. Paul’s response reminded the Corinthians of the work they are called to do and that are baptized onto one body in Christ’s name, and not into the kind of worship and work which insists that one’s particular version of the truth is the only one.
How grateful I am for “Chloe’s people. Perhaps things changed in Corinth. At least we have the record of Paul’s continued relationship with them as a vital community. And we have the story to remind us.
But history does repeat itself. And the current polarized political and ecclesiastical circumstances are a stark contrast to the vision of unity. And Paul’s words are a continued reminder that the work of the whole body is necessary for the healing of the world. This is true whether it is in those places where so called religious violence is tearing us apart or that of tribal factions claiming one turf and truth over another. We need, metaphorically speaking, Chloe’s people!
The good news is that there are signs that even in the midst of so much division in church and society, there are those who refuse to engage in the fight and who are insisting that the crisis in our world today requires a new way of working—one which includes all God’s people, women and men alike. No doubt, there are many examples you could name. Even some in the current political campaign!
My own most heartening word came from the women of the Anglican Communion who gathered last March at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Their statement to the Primates and to the Communion, amid today’s divisive controversy went in part, “ Given the global tensions so evident in our Church today, we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention which can , or indeed would ever cause us to break our unity as represented by our common baptism. Neither would we ever consider severing the deep abiding bonds of affection which characterize our relationships as Anglican women. This sister hood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and of our commitment to transforming the whole world through peace with justice. Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.”
In the days to come, may it be so.