In the fourth chapter of Matthew we are introduced to the first four disciples. Simon (also known as Peter) and his brother Andrew are in their boat fishing when Jesus approaches them. Likewise, James and John are in their boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets after a long day of fishing.
We hear very little about these brothers, even if they do become key players in the gospel story and the emergence of the early Christian church. At this moment, when Jesus calls out to them, all we know are their names. We have no clue why Jesus called these four from amongst the many that must have been working the waters and the shores that day. We have no clue why these four stand out beyond all others. We have no idea why they answered such a vague calling. And we have no clue what they were talking about that day just before Jesus appeared in their lives.
As a minister, I have grown accustomed to hearing certain complaints, many of them dealing with (usually false) perceptions about what Christians are and are not allowed to do in our society. Violence is schools wouldn’t be an issue, it is reasoned, if “God hadn’t been taken out of the classroom.” Young people are morally inept because they aren’t allowed to pray openly in schools. Christians are persecuted if they stand up for what they believe…
The list goes on and on–usually I try to point out areas in which the arguments don’t hold water. The supreme court has upheld the right of Christian groups to bring religion-based programs into the classroom. It just can’t be mandatory to attend. Prayer is permitted and students can (and do) openly lead prayers. We just cannot coerce others to join our prayers and teachers are not permitted to require it. Laws that allow practices to occur with which you do not agree is not persecution, because you will always be free to give voice to your opposition. But the consequences can’t be averted–people will disagree and if you make statements that violate your employer’s code -of-conduct policies, you can be disciplined.
It seems that as Christians, we spend a lot of time talking about all the ways that we perceive we aren’t allowed to be Christians–and ignore the myriad of opportunities we have to actually get up and go do ministry.
That’s why I sometimes wonder what Andrew, Simon, and the Sons of Zebedee were talking about just before Jesus were approaching them.
Were they maybe talking about the attendance at Synagogue last week? Maybe they bemoaning the quality of children in their day, remembering all the things they had been expected to learn when they were young. Maybe they upset that there wasn’t more enthusiasm during the hymn singings. Maybe it was upsetting that no one believed in faith healing or miracles anymore. Why couldn’t the faith of their overly-romanticized youth be the faith of today?
Never mind that when they had washed and mended their nets for the day, they would go home and spend the evening not doing a thing about any of it. Never mind that they buried their heads in their hymnbook and mumbled the words of the songs at the last worship service. And miracles? Who even had time to look for miracles in a world full of charlatans?
Clearly, these four men were men of faith–I mean, who would get up and leave everything, even your father behind to follow some guy who was rambling on about nonsense like making you a fisher of men?
We may not know much about Andrew, Simon, James and John–but we can read between the lines and see a lot about who they were prior to when Jesus arrived in their lives. They believed God could and would send a Messiah. They believed God was still active in their world. And they watching for something. They were hoping for something. If they hadn’t been, they would have missed Jesus like so many others on that day did.
When Jesus called to them, they heard something special in his voice. When they looked at him, they saw something more than just the carpenter from Galilee–and they followed.
But what were they talking about?
I can’t help but think that these four were talking about the same things we often talk about–the pitfalls of today’s faithful and the wishes they had for a renewal–a revival–of the spirit. They were talking about the dreams they had of a day when something would happen that would change the game forever.
And they got it.
Not in earth-shaking, mountain-toppling form… but in the simple words from a simple teacher with dusty feet: “Come and follow me.”
How often have we sat in our boats (or churches) and cried about the good-ol’ days? How many times have we used the phrase “remember when…”? How often do we look wistfully back to a time that only exists in our heads and in sepia tones? But if we listen for Jesus’ voice we will find that he isn’t beckoning us backward to an imperfect time, but forward into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Andrew and Simon, James and John–they got up to follow. They hopped out their boats, they left it all behind, and they followed Jesus into some difficult places, but ultimately, they followed him into the very place they were hoping to find.
The miracle of that day wasn’t that Jesus called these four men–the miracle was that these four men were willing to respond. Will we continue to sit in our boats, lamenting bygone days? Or will we jump up and go?