Sunday, January 26, 2020
Third Sunday after Epiphany
His name was Sawada. He was a well-known Japanese fisherman who fished the waters off the Kona coast over sixty years ago. He was known for catching ‘opelu or mackerel.
Whenever there was talk of ‘ōpelu, there was talk about Sawada. My hānai dad would fish with him from time to time.
I’m not sure what made Sawada the best at catching ‘ōpelu. Some thought it was his palu or fish bait that was used as chum to attract the ‘ōpelu. Others insisted that it was plain old hard work – getting up before sunrise and loading up the canoe with the enormous net that was used along with the ice and other supplies that made for a day’s work.
My hānai dad insisted it was Sawada’s knack for tracking the ‘ōpelu without benefit of a global positioning system and for knowing when to let the net down and for the hard work that followed hauling the nets back into the canoe. The effort was not without its challenges – whether that included rough seas or a windy day or the occasional predator that saw the chance for an easy meal.
We were too young to go out on the canoe. While they were out on the ocean we spent the day on the beach and along the shoreline getting into our share of mischief.
By mid-afternoon when the ocean currents had changed and the fishing was pau – finished - we would be on shore to welcome the canoes back. We would scurry about at the last minute to make certain the wooden logs were lined up properly so that the canoe could be brought in and rolled up from the water’s edge onto higher ground.
Others would hurry off and return with the pā kini or round metal tubs into which various sizes of ‘ōpelu would be sorted. I have vivid memories of the silver-hued neon colored fish splashing about as they were transferred from the fish box in the center of the canoe filled with ice to the metal tubs.
The fish ended up being sold at Sawada's Fish Market in Honaunau. A lot of the fish were sold fresh but Sawada was best known for his dried ‘ōpelu – cleaned, sprinkled with Hawaiian rock salt, and laid out in screened boxes to dry out in the Kona sun. Whatever fish that did not make it to market because of its size or condition was divided among the fishing crew.
The fish dad would give to us, we would clean and pūlehu or broil over an open kiawe fire on the beach. At home they would end up in a frying pan or sometimes my auntie would lomi the fish raw, add water and some chopped-up green onions for our Hawaiian version of cerviche.
I know that the work of fishing was not easy. My dad’s hands, like Sawada’s hands, had a dark leathery quality to them. They showed years of exposure to the sun and sea. Thick callouses formed in the palm of their hands from the weight of nets being lowered and raised up time and time again.
I know that the work was not easy. Yet I also knew that for my dad and for Sawada it was a life that provided food and income for the care of their families.
It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone walking by at the end of the day would be able to draw them away from such a life. That is what has always troubled me about the story of Jesus’ invitation to Peter and Andrew and later to James and John to leave their nets, boats, and families behind to follow him.
As difficult as their lives may have been fishing out on the open sea at Galilee, it was probably a life that the early disciples also found satisfying. Was Jesus being unreasonable when he called out to the disciples to follow him – to leave everything behind?
Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James and John was not really an invitation. It was a command. “Follow me.”
Neither of them bothered to ask, “But where are you going?” Was it possible that they had heard of Jesus through the preaching of John the Baptizer?
Whatever answer we may come up with, the writer of Matthew is more concerned about our knowing that Jesus picks up the prophetic ministry of John the Baptizer and makes it his own. In our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew, we are made aware that what transpired was a fulfillment of prophecy. We are also made aware that when Jesus withdrew to Capernaum in Galilee he set the course for his ministry that included: proclaiming the presence of God’s reign; teaching, healing, and calling the disciples to follow him.
What becomes significant in the story is the call to Peter, Andrew, James, John, and others to repent – that is to turn their lives in a new direction. The call to change directions and to journey in God’s way becomes Jesus’ message.
Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s description of God’s faithful and peaceful servant. In our reading this morning, Matthew connects Jesus with Isaiah’s message as the saving light of God to those living in despair.
This saving light is celebrated by Isaiah as he speaks of the light of a new king and probably refers to a new prince born after 732 BCE following a time of war. This king was to rule during a time of peace and justice.
Over the centuries we have come to associate this promise with Jesus. In Jesus we see not only the “Prince of Peace” but a king in the line of King David.
I suppose if my dad and Sawada had heard about someone named John the Baptizer and if they had some knowledge that someone was about to drop by with a message that the kingdom of God was at hand, they probably would have listened to and considered what was being said. But as for leaving the canoe behind and all that ‘ōpelu, probably not. They probably would have said to Jesus, "You pupule! You crazy!”
But I also know they would have found great comfort in the story of how Jesus finally came to appreciate the fishing lives of Peter, Andrew, James and John as well as Thomas and Nathan. Just after daybreak in the days following his resurrection, Jesus stood on the beach but the disciples did not recognize him.
Jesus said to them, “You have no fish, have you?”
“No,” they answered.
He said to them, “Cast your net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. It was then that Peter recognized Jesus.
When they went ashore they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught. Come now and let us have breakfast.” And after this he said to Peter once again, “Follow me.” (John 21:1-19)
So it is that we also follow.