Open your bibles to Luke, chapter 5, verse 1 through 11. Listen as I read for what God is saying to you, to us.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.For seven months my wife Cindy and I lived in Skopje, Macedonia, a small country in Eastern Europe. We crossed the ocean full of love for Jesus, young and wanting nothing more than to spend our energy to love as he loves.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Lk 5.1-11) Amen.
When I started the application process with the mission board, I imagined I would split my time in Europe between bringing comfort to orphans and refugees and sharing the gospel over cappuccinos with young people. But, instead, what met me once the plane touched down was confusion and loneliness. I asked what I could do in a city I did not know that spoke a language I did not understand. Instead of cafe conversations and building orphanages, I taught American missionary kids arithmetic, history, and grammar.
But wise friends and co-workers told me to persevere, that they could see that God had brought me there even if I was a bit foggy on God’s reason for doing so. They also encouraged me to learn to language. I would be a lot happier they said, once I could zboruvat Makedonski.
So every Tuesday and Thursday night Cindy and I would ride the bus toward the center of the city, to a neighborhood called Novo Lisiche, and sit for an hour or two with our language teacher Richard learning vocabulary and grammar, how to ask for directions, how to buy a kilo of potatoes or oranges at the market.
One Thursday night, a few months into our time in Macedonia--probably in February--I was riding the bus back to our apartment.
It is not warm in Macedonia in the winter. This night there was snow on the ground. I was sitting in the back of the bus. The bus was pretty empty, just me, a few men riding home from a day at cafes watching soccer, and a Roma family riding up front, a father and mother, one son who looked about ten years old and a younger son who was probably four or five. The mother and especially the father looked too old to have such young children, but by this point in my time in Macedonia, I’d learned that in Roma families people often look much older than they are. The Roma are gypsies, the trash-pickers, the scrap-metal collectors, the people who build their homes in the city dump. They live hard lives, so a man who looks sixty may only be thirty and a woman who looks fifty-five may only be twenty-eight.
I looked up again at the family at the front of the bus as we bounced through another intersection. The father’s toes and heels were sticking out of his shoes. There was snow outside, cold air blowing in around the doors to the bus, and this man’s bare toes and exposed heels had nothing between them and elements.
I sat there, disturbed, unsure what to do. I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I knew that I had come to the country with two pairs of shoes and a pair of sandals besides and this man had nothing that passed for decent shoes on a cold February night. And I felt afraid. How would I speak to him? I could barely express myself in my broken Macedonian, and odds were that his own Macedonian was not that great; he would speak some Roma dialect. Would I offend him? Is it an insult to his character if I offer him a gift in front of his children?
I sat there feeling guilty and afraid until he and his family stepped out into the cold a few stops later. When the bus finally reached the end of the line, my stop, I thanked the driver, pulled my coat collar up, and walked to my apartment, feeling disappointed at my lack of response.
I had an opportunity to love the way Jesus loves--to bring warmth to a poor man’s feet, to offer him some small measure of protection and stability. This action, this gift was what I wanted--the hope that brought me to Macedonia. But instead of untying my shoes and misspeaking and gesturing my way through an awkward interaction, I sat securely in my seat in the back of the bus. I failed to respond.
Luke’s story about Jesus asks us to make a decision. When Jesus brings us good news, he brings us a demand, a demand that we choose whether to follow him and join with him or to ignore him, to pretend nothing has really happened, to go back to life as normal. We must choose.