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Diana Butler Bass @dianabutlerbass
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Today's lectionary reading in mainline churches is quite well-known: "As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.'"
What is not so well-known is how deeply political this passage is.
Fishing was one of the most miserable jobs in the ancient world. Ancient historians said that its status was barely above that of a beggar. 3/
Fishermen were usually part of kinship networks, where families struggled together to catch enough to pay the onerous and regressive taxes placed upon them and have a pittance left over to live. 4/
It was often migrant work as well -- needing to follow the fish -- and involved difficult physical and natural hazards. 5/
Ancient fishing wasn't a business that would make you rich. And it sure wasn't a hobby. It was hard work with little reward and great risk -- and it was near the bottom of the social-economic structure of the Roman Empire. 6/
Not only was fishing a low-status job with poverty-level wages, but fishing was a point of political tension in Jesus' time. 7/
For generations, those kin-groups had fished on the Sea of Galilee, barely surviving. But, in 20CE, Herod decided he wanted to impress Emperor Tiberius and build a great new city -- Tiberias -- in his honor on the Sea of Galilee, thus displacing local fishing communities. 8/
And raises the taxes and fees on fishing in order to pay for the project. 9/
When Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee, he's not a tourist admiring the view. He's purposefully starting his ministry in the midst of an oppressed, displaced, impoverished group of people who are being victimized in a real estate development project for the super elite.10
Jesus said to them, "The Kingdom of God begins right here. Right now. Follow me." 11/
The story says that the fishermen dropped their nets immediately and followed him. 12/
He wasn't inviting them to a place of heavenly rest, eternal salvation in the clouds. He was inviting them to throw off oppression, to join a political movement that he called "the kingdom of God." 13/
This kingdom resisted the Empire. It stood against the injustice of the occupation and the theft of local resources to enrich a distant Roman elite. 14/
The calling of the disciples was -- in every conceivable way -- a political act. 15/
It is wrong for contemporary Christians to say, "Don't preach politics in the church. The Gospel isn't political." That's wrong. The Gospel is deeply political. 16/
If you think that the Gospel isn't political, you don't understand these stories. They aren't about some golden Jesus inviting a bunch of guys with a successful fishing business to tend to their spiritual lives. 17/
Jesus goes right to geographical center of oppression and calls the poorest, most abused people in that world out of slavery into freedom. 18/
It makes me deeply angry that so many white Christians actually resist understanding the historical, economic, and political settings of Jesus' story. 19/
And we (white Christians that is) wonder why our churches are declining? 20/
It is because we aren't telling the truth about who Jesus was, what his real message was, and are terrified about the implications for our own times. 21/
But Jesus still walks on the shores of all cities, calling out to those abused by empire, those trampled by imperial power, those struggling to survive. The Kingdom of God is near! Follow me! 22/
He will make his followers "fishers of people." Instead of slaving in an abusive job in the thrall of Caesar, those who come with Jesus will together call others into a new community. One built on "kingdom" theology, not imperialism. 23/
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