Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Does He See in Them/Us?

Scripture for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany includes Isaiah 9:1-4; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

What was it about those four fellows that drew Jesus to them?

I’m guessing that the simple fact that they are named so prominently in three of the Gospels and the Book of Acts tells us that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were still forces to be reckoned with in the early Church. Remember that their primacy is also shown in their being with Jesus at certain crucial pivotal times, including the Transfiguration. These guys were not bench warmers. They were starters.

And it’s remembered that they were two pairs of brothers. Why do you suppose that detail was remembered? It’s not as if filial loyalty is the top priority in the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed: Remember how he dismissed his own nuclear family when they tried to persuade him to take better care of himself, give up his itinerant preaching, and come home to work in the family carpentry business? He asked them sharply, “Who is my mother, my brothers, my sisters? Those who do the will of my Father are my brothers, my sisters, my mother.” It’s not self-evident that coming packaged as a pair of siblings would give these fellows a tip in the admissions process.

Though maybe these two pairs were known in their younger days, in their first career, as duos. Like, “Don’t mess with Peter or Andrew: cross one and you’ve got both on your case…” or, “James and John, they’re the umbilical brothers; you never see one without the other, they’re tight…”

But this family thing is tricky, isn’t it? I brought communion to Steve and Mary King on Friday, and Mary asked, “Does anyone care how Zebedee feels about this head-hunting?” Good question! So much for Social Security—without his boys, how will Zebedee ever manage? As I said, filial loyalty does not appear to top the charts in the Kingdom of God. The reign of justice, mercy, and grace is not necessarily built on traditional family values.

What is it built on? It is built on courage. The back-story to the calling of the first disciples is the arrest of John the Baptizer. This watershed moment sounds pivotal to the public ministry of Jesus. The Gospel writers remember John the Baptist’s departing words, “I must decrease so that he (Jesus) may increase.” John has confronted the corrosive amorality of King Herod’s household, and all its ripple effects upon wider society, characterized by the greed of tax collectors, the unwarranted violence of soldiers, and the hoarding instincts of the citizenry (all were evils John tried to wash clean from the fabric of society, ensuring that painted on his backside was an unmistakable set of concentric circles).

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Those are the exact words that in Matthew’s Gospel capture the essence of John the Baptist’s preaching. Now they are the opening words of the public ministry of Jesus, and he may well be referring to the lasting importance of John, indelibly linking his own ministry with that of his fore-runner. It fits the high regard we hear our Lord holding for John that he should be taken to mean, “In that man John, a prophet and I tell you more than a prophet, God’s kingdom has come as near to you as the wind on your face.”

To become one of the disciples of Jesus will require the same courage, the same readiness for confrontation, rejection of the status quo, appetite for changing this world into a new creation. It will require willingness to stand vulnerable to the elements—not so much the engulfing sea and threatening storm as vulnerability to the elements of social disapproval and the requirements of obedience and the central struggle of faith, which is to trust all throughout the hard and bumpy ride of change.

But we aren’t done wringing out answers to that opening question, What does Jesus see in these guys?

Fishermen. Workers holding the tools of their labor, nets and oars and sails. Workers standing in the vehicles of their labor, those creaky rough-hewn perhaps leaky boats. He sees workers who know intimately how the prosperity or the poverty of their households and their hometowns depends on their hard work, their smart work, their serving the most basic needs for security in the people around them.

He sees workers who know how to read and interpret the signs, the seasons, the sea, the sky: people who truly occupy God’s creation with care and awe, recognizing and treasuring the interdependence they have with the natural order and so are positioned to midwife a new creation.

Do you suppose first-century fishermen had the reputation for blarney that we expect of them today? If so, Jesus saw in them people who could tell a good story, people others would listen to and draw an audience.

Meanwhile, back at the Kings’, Steve commented that we don’t find the fishermen turning Jesus down, but there are stories of some who refused to be nominated, like the rich young man who seemed all set to sign on until Jesus required him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. To the fishermen, he had promised to make them fishers of people. Evidently, the young investor didn’t recognize that Jesus was promising to make him an investor in people. I’m guessing this poor fellow never heard the promise or imagined what the transformation might mean. In the verbs of that exchange, he heard “sell” and “give”, but never got to “come” and “follow”, even though he was sure he wanted those very changes in his life. He will visit us in another Gospel on another Sunday, so we’ll let him wait until that sermon, and let’s return to these fishermen.

Does the story of their calling speak to you? Is it that recruiting fishermen is a persuasive way of declaring that Christian discipleship is not rocket science, not vocation reserved for a few or confined to the gifted? Isn’t it the fisherman thing that causes us to lose our excuses for resisting discipleship—like, we don’t know what we have to offer Jesus, don’t yet have the training, the experience, or the understanding we think is required?

So, deal with it. And if you’d like some company dealing with it, consider signing up for the Foundations experience, to be offered at a parish church near you in about two or three weeks’ time. You may find that it offers some of that grace we prayed for earlier today, grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ. Grace each of us needs to recognize God in the world, and to live more fully into the vows of our baptism and the values, the puzzling values, of the Kingdom of God.