January 18, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
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.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The Sundays after Epiphany are the Sundays when we think about how God makes his kingdom manifest in the world, and how the light of Jesus was and is revealed.
Yesterday we talked about a children’s book; today we’re talking about a children’s song. If you grew up in the church, especially if you grew up in the era that I did (the 1970s and 1980s), one of the very first songs you may have learned in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School was the song “I Will Make You Fishers of Men.” Of course, Jesus was calling his disciples to fish for both men and women—for all who would follow him and become part of his kingdom—and so, at least at our house, we usually sing “I will make you fishers of folk” now.
At any rate, this famous song was based on today’s passage, specifically on Mark 1:17, where Jesus explains to those fishermen he calls to follow him that they are going to be using their fishing skills in a new way. (Given the amount of time Jesus spent going around on boats during his preaching ministry, it’s quite possible they used their fishing skills—or at least their boating skills—in the old way as well in support of Jesus’s mission.)
As a small child, I just thought all the songs we sang at Vacation Bible School fell out of the sky and landed on what we used to call 33 1/3 rpm records, but writing this devotional I became curious about this song’s actual source. It turns out that it was written by a man named Harry Dixon Clarke, who was born in Wales in 1888 and orphaned as a young boy. At one point, he ran away from the orphanage he lived in and went to sea for ten years!
Eventually, Clarke came to the U.S., where he became an evangelical Christian, studied at Moody Bible Institute, and had a career as a hymn writer and composer. He died in 1957. Clarke wrote over fifty hymns—both words and music—and edited five hymnals, and was a songleader for Billy Sunday and founding pastor of the Billy Sunday Memorial Chapel (I found all of this out here and here).
I wasn’t able to find out exactly when Clarke wrote the song—it is copyrighted 1927, but that is simply the year he sold his copyrights to Hope Publishing Co. (according to Hope Publishing Co., who ought to know.) I wonder if, when he wrote it, he had his troubled youth at sea in mind. I wonder if he ever thought about Jonah and the storm. I wonder what he thought about what Jesus had called him to, and how Jesus had used him—used, perhaps, even those troubled years.
The Sundays after Epiphany (you knew I’d get around to the liturgical year eventually) are the Sundays when we think about how God makes his kingdom manifest in the world, how the light of Jesus was and is revealed. Maybe these Epiphany weeks, as you go about your daily work as an agent of the Kingdom, you can think about Jonah, and about Harry Dixon Clarke, and—in particular if you are drowning—about this quote from Methodist lay preacher John Wesley Redfield: “Jesus will always go under with me, and Jesus will have a resurrection, and I shall come up with him.”
What is Jesus calling you to do?
Who is Jesus calling you to fish for?
Well, you have to listen to Harry Dixon Clarke’s song now, right? Listen to it while you ponder the reflection questions.
(Prayer for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany in the Book of Common Prayer) Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Banner image by Pedro Kummel on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Calling of the First Disciples (Mark 1:16-20).
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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