From Pastor Kenny's Desk
January 21, 2018
“After John’s arrest, Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!’
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw the brothers Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, since they fished by trade. Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me; I will make you fishers of humankind.’ They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.
Proceeding a little further along, Jesus saw the brothers James and John Bar-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, putting their nets in order. Immediately Jesus called them, and they left their father Zebedee standing in the boat with the hired help, and went off in the company of Jesus.” Mark 1:14-20
I’ve always found this passage both inspiring and puzzling. I find it inspiring because of the decisiveness and immediacy of the response of the four disciples mentioned in the reading. But I also find it a tad puzzling because it seems to set the bar so high. Leave everything … to follow an itinerant preacher into an unknown future … immediately, really? To be honest, it’s hard to imagine doing as these four did … and I wonder how many others feel the same.
Can you imagine picking up and leaving everything to follow Jesus? My hunch is most of us would find it very difficult to leave our work, family, friends and all the rest of the things we find meaningful in our lives to venture into such an uncertain future. And, here’s the question: Does that mean we’re more or less failures as Christian people of faith? Or maybe even less faithful than Andrew and Peter, James and John? Frankly, given the rest of the story Mark will tell, I don’t think we have that much to fear. Yes, they leave to follow Jesus now, but they also end up disappointing, denying and abandoning Jesus at various points of the story.
So, I wonder whether Mark offers this story to set an example for us in the first place. And, if so, what kind of example did he intend?
It’s this second question I find most intriguing because I suspect that we are meant to find this story of disciples willing to follow Jesus inspiring. Yet I doubt that Mark imagined people would forever follow Jesus in exactly the same way. One would think he obviously knew that it’s no longer possible for people to follow the historical Jesus as did the first disciples. That event had come and gone. So perhaps Mark’s message to those reading back in the first century … as well as to those of us following along in the twenty-first … was more about following Jesus in general than it was about anyone following him only by leaving everything to proclaim the coming kin-dom of God.
Except! … we can never follow in general. Each of us follow Jesus in particular and distinct ways that may or may not be like the first disciples. And that, I think, is the point. Perhaps we follow Jesus by becoming a teacher or a nurse, or a bus driver or by cleaning homes. Perhaps we follow by volunteering through the MCC Richmond Food Pantry, the Lounge, Bread Ministry or any of our congregational ministries. Perhaps we follow by looking out for those in our community and beyond who are homeless or simply need a friendly smile or a word of kindness. Perhaps we follow by doing a job we love as best we can to help others. Perhaps we follow by doing a job we hate but it contributes to supporting our family and helping others. Perhaps we follow by being generous with our wealth and with our time. Perhaps we follow by listening to those around us and responding with encouragement and care. Perhaps we follow by caring for an aging parent, or special needs child, or someone else who needs our help and care. Perhaps we follow by standing for justice and equality for all people. Perhaps we follow by _____ …. YOU fill in the blank.
You get the idea … there are any number of ways that we follow Jesus. And, to do so immediately … here and now, in the world and time in which we live. What matters is that we follow Jesus in all of these different situations and circumstances precisely by trying to imitate him … by trying to treat others with the same regard, love and patience that he did … especially those who were overlooked, marginalized and condemned by society. This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian person of faith: to try to live and treat others as Jesus did, embracing the values of inclusiveness, love, forgiveness, and healing that he radiated in his words, actions and life.
With this kind of discipleship in mind, can we as God’s people look ahead to the coming week and anticipate times, places and occasions where we might try to follow Jesus by treating others as we see Jesus treating people. That is, can we follow Jesus immediately, by responding to the needs of those in our family, our colleagues or co-workers, our friends, those we see out-and-about in our community? I believe that as we commit and try to do so, we will live into and benefit more fully from the identity into which Jesus calls us. The point isn’t about being “better disciples” but rather it’s about knowing and experiencing Jesus more deeply by following him.
In the closing passage of his monumental The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer … theologian, doctor, Bach scholar … offers a similar insight that I think is still both poignant and relevant. Having concluded that separating the “real” or “historical” Jesus from the “Jesus of faith,” Schweitzer nevertheless discovers that we can come to know Jesus fully and authentically only by following Jesus. As he writes:
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those people who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Such is the promise we experience as we live into our call to follow Jesus … which will not just make a difference this week but might actually change someone’s life as they meet Jesus … perhaps for the very first time!