When it comes to bible stories, I’m sometimes torn between wonder and explanation. That sounds like a loaded statement, but it’s not a bad thing, I don’t think.
The thing is, I think the stories in the bible have an essential truth at the heart of them. That’s why the bible is still relevant – yes it is – and as long as reaching that essential truth is our goal, the manner in which we reach it might be through wonder or explanation. Hmm. Maybe I’m not torn so much as I just waffle between them. I need both.
Miracle stories are a great example. I think that different facets of what’s true can be revealed through wonder at the seemingly unnatural as well as through a reasoned interpretation that puts understanding in our hands as well as our hearts. Spirit and body, creative and practical, inspiration and action, we need them both.
But the story that’s got me thinking about this isn’t one that we’d necessarily think of as a “miracle.” I think it’s a miracle, in it’s own way, but when Jesus calls his first disciples, we tend to just think of it as an example to follow (no pun intended) just as it is. Jesus calls us and we will follow.
I’m speaking of the story in Mark, Matthew and Luke, of course. In John, as we talked about last week, the story’s a little different. There, the first disciples of Jesus were followers of John the Baptist. He tells them to check out Jesus because that’s the guy he’s been saying is coming, they do, Jesus says “come and see,” they do and decide to follow him.
The other three gospels tell the familiar story of Jesus walking by the sea. He sees the fishermen and calls to Simon, Andrew, James and John and says “follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They drop everything and go. They don’t hesitate, they drop everything and go because Jesus calls them.
You can see why the church has always liked this story. It’s simple and straight forward and reflects the power of Jesus.
Maybe. And there’s a variety of ways that you could address that. One might think that there would have been many fishermen by the lake and Jesus picked these ones. Did Jesus, being of God, somehow know them already? Did they recognize something in Jesus that caused them to follow? Maybe, in their hearts, they knew Jesus already. Maybe they just wanted to get away from a life of back-breaking hard work. Maybe it was time for a change. Maybe.
We live in a time when our leaders seem to command more followers with their charisma or their physical appearance rather than wisdom or insight. Or empty promises and ideas about who to blame rather than how to fix it, or quick fixes at the expense of others. It doesn’t seem like “follow because I said so” is a good model for today.
But is this that model? I’ve always preferred the story in John because it seems like Jesus invites people to come and see what he’s doing before choosing to follow him and this one seems like Jesus just exerts his power over them and compels them. Yes, this may be a miracle moment when Jesus and his first followers know each other. But it may also be more a miracle of understanding.
The story doesn’t begin with “follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus’ ministry begins with “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15) He was already teaching and preaching. He was already ministering.
Maybe Simon and Andrew came so willingly because they’d already heard the message and it resonated with them. Maybe Zebedee, the father of James and John, was okay with losing two hard working sons from his boat because he’d heard the message too and saw how it touched them. Maybe Jesus wasn’t displaying his power over others, but his connectedness, his ability to engage and touch people’s hearts and minds with a message about making a world of love and grace, peace and hope.
Listen. Maybe we can all hear it.