By the Rev. Elisabeth Hartwell
RCL Reflection, Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A
January 22, 2023
… the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned. — Matthew 4:16
Ah, the post-Christmas season of Epiphany. The Advent wreath is long gone, the Christmas tree is a memory, and now in the season’s third week, we have long since finished singing “We Three Kings.” Late January, the world outside is frozen and dark, and if you are like me, you have a strong urge to take a long winter’s nap.
However, our Scripture from Matthew reminds us of Epiphany’s ongoing call to begin anew and to answer Jesus’ summons to be “fishers of people” (4:19). In the dead of winter beginning anew and fishing for people might feel like a tall order, but hang in there … the lesson gives us clarity and inspiration for the long, frozen road ahead.
In its depiction of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Matthew’s Gospel refers back to Isaiah, reiterating the prophet’s promise that those “who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (4:16). What does it look like to see a great light in the midst of bleak darkness? What does dawn look like? Jesus answers these questions as he calls his first disciples. For Jesus, it looks like fishing for people.
And what’s that? For Jesus, fishing for people is about, first, spiritual relationships we form and nurture. After all, when Jesus calls his first disciples, he does not search out the most qualified or those with the stellar resumes. On the contrary, Jesus’ primary criterion for a life of discipleship is simply a willingness to follow him in close relationship. So then, it follows that one primary way to be fishers of people is to commit ourselves to walking the discipleship path in relationship with Jesus and forming Christian relationships with others.
Fishing for people means being good stewards of the relationships we already have, and also forming new relationships. After all, stewardship is much more than money or material possessions. Stewardship is the entirety of all that God entrusts to us, and how we use that with which we have been blessed. Among the most precious gifts we have been given from God are the people in our lives. We become faithful stewards of this gift when we deepen our existing relationships and support one another, and when we reach out in Christian love and friendship to new people.
Here and now, in this ongoing season of Epiphany, we can answer Jesus’ summons to fish for people by embracing new beginnings: we can begin to deepen relationships we have long enjoyed, and we can start relationships by taking a leap of faith and connecting with new people. What better way to journey through these bitter cold months than with the warm fellowship of friends both old and new? Perhaps above all else, Jesus loves and cares deeply for people. This is our opportunity to be extensions of his love and care, serving as his hands and feet as we travel new paths side-by-side, together.
Invite your congregation to look around at the pews or seats in the sanctuary. Who do they see? People they have known for a long time? People they have only just recently met? People who sit in pews far away, on the other side of the sanctuary, whom they have never really had the opportunity to get to know? Ask them who is not in the sanctuary now whom they would love to have sitting beside them. Reiterate that fishing for people is about being good stewards of the relationships they already have and also forming new relationships. You might even use Ann Weems’ poem “You — Sitting in the Pew Next to Me” as a way to encourage congregants to reflect on how intimately they know one another and how vulnerable they are willing to be around each other.
Worship with Youth
In 2016, two students at the Avonworth Primary Center in Pittsburgh, PA approached their teacher requesting to begin an after-school club. The club they went on to form, JAM Enterprises, creates items to donate or sell for the benefit of others. One of the items they sell has become very popular: shirts which say #bethekindkid. Invite youth to learn more about this organization (click here) and to ask how they might participate in or start similar clubs at their own schools. Fishing for people means being kind. What does it look like to be kind? How do you respond when others are not kind? Encourage youth to recognize that it matters how they treat other people.
Worship with Children
There is a well-known, much loved Girl Scout song entitled “Make New Friends, But Keep the Old.” Teach this song to children in your church- they do not need to be Girl Scouts to sing it and to benefit from its message. Say that fishing for people is about being a good friend. Ask the children what is special about the friendships they already share with those with whom they are close. Inquire also about what it is like when they make a new friend. And, encourage the children in your church to be on the lookout for kids who do not seem to have as many friends, and to offer friendship to them as well.
*The Rev. Elisabeth Hartwell serves as pastor of Hiland Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Photo: Hannah Nelson, Pexels