What was it that made those first disciples follow Jesus? How could they have just walked away from their trade, their families, everything they knew and were comfortable doing to follow him?
How could James and John have just gotten up and walked out on their own father, leaving all that he was ready to pass on to them as their inheritance, the family fishing business, rocking in the surf at the edge of the lake?”
We wonder and muse about the actions of those first disciples, probably because we have a sense that if we could just discover what motivated those first disciples’, we might find reasons ourselves for taking up the invitation of Jesus to come and follow him.
I’m sure that you have mused about this yourself, as I have. What made them do it?
Was it because Jesus was so charismatic? Is that what made them drop everything and go after him. Some have speculated that maybe the physical presence of Jesus was just so magnetic, attracting large crowds and individuals alike. You had but to take one look at Jesus, hear him speak and you couldn’t help yourself from wanting to follow him.
Maybe if I just met Jesus more personally I’d find my motivation to follow him? And so we try to find ways to get to know Jesus on a personal level, or want to know him as a “personal Lord and Savior” hoping that the mojo of intimacy will somehow spur us into wanting to follow.
For some, that actually works on a certain level, but there is a danger in making Jesus too personal. You can get so wrapped up in what Jesus does for you personally that you forget that Jesus’ primary interest was not in personal gratification of his followers, but in calling them to follow where he leads, which are often difficult places. Too much emphasis on the “Personal Savior” risks that we make of Jesus simply a “life coach.” There to encourage us when we’re feeling down, and nothing more.
Or we speculate that what made those fishermen give up their trade was their own sense of fatigue with fishing, that anything really beat cleaning fish, so why not take Jesus up on his offer, what did they have to lose?
We can make of Jesus a kind of “logical choice.” Fishing was in decline in the Sea of Galilee, so why not pursue other ventures. Following Jesus was a career move, or it had to do with serving, doing, denying yourself, acting solely on the part of others.
We look at the part of the story about John and James leaving their father in the boat and assume that following Jesus is going to demand us giving up our own comfort and connections, and so we jettison the things of this world in preference to pursuing the Kingdom promised.
If the “personal savior” carries with it the danger of turning Jesus into a life coach, this logical reason to follow carries with it a danger of thinking of Jesus only as the great Social Worker who demands our action, our following, and who has really concern for your personal wellbeing.
Reinforced with the stories of how Jesus “gave all” we find ourselves caught in never ending pursuit of giving ourselves away and criticizing any comfort for ourselves. We forsake friends, family, relationships all in the name of “serving Jesus” and then marvel at how burned out and tired we start to feel.
We forget that we are, first of all, NOT the Savior or the Son of God.
Secondly, we ignore how often it was that Jesus often led by example in the area of self-care. We ignore how he would go off and encourage his disciple to do the same to a lonely place to pray, to retreat from the unending demands of ministry of what others will extract from you.
We forget that Jesus hung out at weddings, seemed to have a good time, was even called a drunkard and a glutton by his critics and always seemed to find time to share a good meal or hang out at a friend’s house. He didn’t personally accumulate worldly possessions, but he didn’t seem to mind enjoying the benefits of a good banquet or a comfortable lodging with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus when the opportunity was offered!
We search this story looking for clues as to what led those first disciples to follow, and in focusing on the story of the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John we perhaps miss the big clue that Mark gives us.
It’s almost a throw-away line, but it does set the stage for all that follows, did you catch it?
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee….”
Each of the Gospel writers give us a glimpse into the political and social upheaval of the time of Jesus, and the time in which the Gospel writers lived, and there is a common thread.
Luke sets Jesus’ birth and ministry in the context of Caesar, Quirinius, heavy and burdensome taxation and disregard for the poor. The “crack in history” of living under Roman occupation where the rich and power pay no attention to the suffering of those in their shadow.
Matthew sets Jesus’ birth in the political realities of living under Herod’s corrupt governance and a Temple complicit with the Roman occupation. It is the crack of history of being a specific people bereft of leadership and looking for God’s promised one of old.
And Mark? Well it’s this one throw-away line about the arrest of John that tips us off. This is the straw that breaks the back, that sets Jesus on his trajectory of proclamation. John has been silenced. He is no longer able to rally the people with expectation. The preaching of repentance in the wilderness is gone, no one is preparing the way. He sits in Herod’s prison. Who now will take up the task of proclaiming God’s Kingdom coming near? What does John’s arrest do to all those who have been looking at him as a herald of a new and better world?
What if the motivator for following Jesus is not how we are attracted to him, or how smart a move it would be to follow him, or how logical a choice, but rather something that snaps in the world in which we live?
What if what motivated those fishermen was not just Jesus’ invitation, but also looking around at their world and seeing the crack in history in which they lived. This is the moment when the call of God corresponds to the call on their own personal situation, the thing that drives one to say, “there has to be another way….a better way, and I have to do it, be part of it.”
When you look back over the course of history with those eyes, you recognize how it is that this invitation of Jesus works.
You recognize it in events that changed the course of history, and the understanding of people.
You see it in St. Francis of Assisi, who was born to wealth and privilege, but when he looked around at the result of the concentration of wealth and privilege in 13th Century Italy, something snapped in his world to make him think, “There has to be another way…” and so he renounced his own status and wealth, gave away his possessions to take up the life of a mendicant. Now he was concerned with the care of all creatures. It wasn’t the Kingdom of God, but it was a piece of the Kingdom that seemed to be in step with Jesus’ words to “go out two by two and take no purse, no extra tunic, no extra pair of sandals….”
You see it in an Augustinian Monk in the 14th Century who dared to question the power of the Church and usher in the Reformation. He looked at Feudal Society of his day, the sale of indulgences and ignorance of the scriptures and came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way. And so, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses and embarked on proclaiming justification by grace through faith. It wasn’t exactly the Kingdom of God, but it was closer than the tyranny of conscience and the fear of purgatory that had come before.
This past week we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, who began as a Baptist minister and never intended to become a public figure, but found himself at 27 leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In his “Kitchen Table Experience” he describes how his world snapped under the weight of Jim Crow south and the injustice of racism. A phone call threatened to blow up his house and blow out his brains.
Shaken, King went to the kitchen, made himself a cup of coffee, but soon buried his face in his hands. He began to pray aloud: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right … But … I must confess … I’m losing my courage.”
King later explained what happened next: “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.’”
Martin Luther King did not bring in the Kingdom of God, but his dream and vision and the call to keep standing up brought it just a little bit closer than it had been before.
I think you get my drift here.
What is it that motivates a person to follow Jesus? What gets you out of the boat, makes you leave the nets behind, and changes your course in life?
It isn’t just looking at Jesus, finding him attractive or charismatic.
It isn’t just making a logical choice to follow as if it were a good career move, or a last ditch effort out of your poor circumstances.
No, what motivates people to follow is finding yourself living in the crack of history and destiny, and having now to make a decision about how you will move forward from here, and who you will depend upon as you make that decision.
John has been arrested, and so … now what? Now what for the fishermen? Now what for our community? Jesus offers an invitation, and stands with us in the crack of history and circumstances offering to walk with us as we walk with him in imagining a better world, a better way.
We all of us live in a crack in history, … our particular crack.
All of us have a moment when our world snaps in some way. It may not be momentous in the eyes of the world, but it is in our own perception and understanding for us and those whom we love.
Maybe it is the moment of personal tragedy.
Maybe it is a job-related event, the sense of not going anywhere or the call to something else.
Often, it’s not a moment of our own choosing. It is the news report that something has happened and now we must make our own “now what?” choice, mustering all the prayer and courage we can to listen for the voice within us.
Today the Gospel is that the invitation made to Peter, James, Andrew and John is made still to us, in our own particular crack in history. An invitation and promise that Jesus will walk with us and stand with us as we follow what we perceive to be his lead, his guiding us in what Jesus would have us do in this moment.
I cannot pretend to tell you want you must do.
I cannot begin to guess what your pathway may be, or what you may find yourself called upon to do.
But this I can assure you. As you follow where Jesus leads, the Kingdom of God will come a little bit closer.