Good Guys & Bad Guys
There are some amazing things about being a kid: time for naps, ice cream, birthday parties with lots of presents, ice cream, Santa Claus, family vacations you don’t have to pay for, and ice cream. But perhaps what I miss the most about the innocence of childhood is how easy it was to know good from bad. Everything was black and white. You knew who the good guys were (Mom, Dad, Santa, Jesus, Mary Tyler Moore, and David Cassidy) and who the bad guys were (burglars, the boy who pulled my ponytail during science, the Russians – this was the eighties, after all – and Mrs. Filson, who gave entirely too much homework and threatened that the metric system would destroy our lives if we weren’t prepared for the conversion).
As an adult though, it’s a lot harder to separate the heroes from the villains. In fact, part of the journey to adulthood is coming to the understanding that there is both a hero and a villain inside each of us. But we still long to know who to trust, which star to hitch our wagon to, and life experience has taught us that our instincts haven’t always been right in this regard. Who truly deserves the promotion? Who should be captain of the team? Is this friend able to hold my self-disclosure in confidence? Could my fiance one day break my heart? And now the 2020 presidential election is already in the news (nooooo, didn’t we just finish the last one?). We will eventually need to decide: who is worthy of my vote?
Of course, there’s nothing new about our need to identify the good guys from the bad ones. In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard Jesus declare in the synagogue that “no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Luke 4: 24). He had been in Galilee preaching in their synagogues to much acclaim and acceptance, but he finds the home crowd in Nazareth far less open to his message. In fact, “they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” (Luke 4: 28-30). In other words, the crowd missed the mark and put Jesus in the “villain” column.
But this Sunday’s Gospel turns things around quite a bit. Instead of addressing temple-worthy members of the synagogue, he calls out to simple fishermen who are tired, smelly, and frustrated with the day’s insufficient catch. Instead of preaching from the sacred Scriptures, he says only, “Follow me,” to Simon, James, and John. And instead of identifying himself alongside the holy prophets so revered in their tradition, he just asks them to do what they always do – lower their nets. This time though, they come back full to the point of tearing. Villain no more, at least to these poor fishermen.
Same guy – different response. The crowd last week tries to kill Jesus! Yet the first disciples this week will find themselves blessed with an abundance they could have never dreamed of. What accounts for the difference? I wonder if sometimes our heroes and villains say more about us than they do about themselves.
The crowd in the synagogue had preconceived notions about who the “messiah” should be, and the Jesus they had known since boyhood couldn’t possibly fit the bill. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” they said among themselves (Luke 4: 22), unable to even consider what Jesus had to say. They didn’t like his references to the prophets Elijah and Elisha. “Who is this guy to use his own name in the same sentence as theirs? The nerve!” they seem to think.
But the fishermen have no expectations. In fact, that have nothing at all –no fish, no status, no hope. And this “poverty of spirit” makes room for something incredible to happen. Perhaps there is a lesson here. Is it possible that we miss Jesus in our midst because of our own preconceived notions? Could our expectations for how things and people “should” be prevent us from finding God at work in our world? Maybe if we are humble enough to “put out into deep water and lower our nets,” we too will be amazed at the result.
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry