Carrying a Holy Humanity
This passage in Luke was deeply frustrating for me on the first read; I couldn’t get past the way this verse has been used as a way to justify colonialism and the wiping out of cultures in the name of salvation, Christianity and the “saving of souls”. This idea of being “fishers of men” or “catching people”, as it says in the New Revised Standard Version, has a sinister underbelly to it, a demeaning view of humans and what we’re here to do for one another.
Because of this initial frustration, I decided to look into the Greek of the word “catching” used in this passage. What I found, in summary, is that the word, “zógreó”, when broken down into its two parts “zoon” and “agreuó”, offers us insight into the word’s breadth in terms of meaning.
First, “zoon” breaks down simply to “zoos” at its root, which means “alive”. But “agreuó” breaks down further into, “agra”, which then–according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance–finds its roots in the Greek word “ago”. This word “ago” means “to lead, guide, carry”, with alternate definitions of “to be, bring forth, carry, let go”.
This opening of the verb “catching”, offers us a lens into a new reading of the text before us. Instead of a thumbs-up for colonialism and white supremacy, there is a communal humanity in the lens of this verse. Now, when Jesus says his disciples will be “catching people”, the verb “catching” offers us new bounds of understanding. Jesus is offering us a new way to be human together; to support one another in our journeys, in our “being”, in the burdens we must carry. None of it needs to be, or should be, done alone.
In this way, the verse finally begins to parallel and offer a reading that parallels the life of Jesus itself, which is paramount when we read scripture. As we see in the Gospels, and in the New Testament as a whole, Jesus becomes the new standard-bearer for all law and grace and mercy in religious ordinances and law; Jesus is the living, breathing law, and truth, and salvation. With this, we see especially throughout the Gospels that Jesus does not just teach words on a page, or offer long-winded sermons, but he always pairs it with action. Similarly in this verse, we see Jesus teach first, and then offer action.
And this is where the verse finally comes alive for me; Jesus does what Jesus’ life set out to do: He set out not to just offer right belief (orthodoxy), but also right action (orthopraxy). And this is the reason we see God incarnate at all; God sets out to acknowledge and dignify the human experience in a way that society and religion and its laws have failed. God inhabits flesh; dignifies its experience; and in the same way, asks us to dignify and recognize our own experiences as human beings.
In this reading in Luke, we see God in flesh, Jesus, dignifying and offering space again, to the human experience. Jesus says let me teach and show you the way; it is with one another; it is by carrying a weight worthy of your time and energy, which is the weight of one another.
Jesus asks us not only to walk this road together, to acknowledge the experiences of one another deeply and truly, but he also asks us to recognize and listen to our own experience; he breathes new life into our own humanity and journey, along with others’. The fisherman had washed their nets and put them away, but Jesus asked them to fish again; to dream again; to let down their nets for a load worth carrying.
This week, as we reflect on the concept of “carrying a holy humanity”, let us remember that Jesus calls us to carry the story’s of one another, and our own story, in a way that dignifies it and gives it space to breathe. What is God calling us to carry? Are there dreams we are being drawn to once again? Are there people we have neglected in our journey, or neglected to offer dignity to?
Let us look sternly into the humanity of our siblings, and ourselves, and call it dignified, and good, and worth carrying.
May we dream, and carry one another this week, in full awareness of the beauty and dignity in this call.
Go in peace.
Lauren Ileana Sotolongo
Co-Executive Director, Brave Commons