Last week, we reflected on the meaning of the baptism of Jesus - a significant milestone in his earthly ministry. This week, we are looking at the next step, which was to choose his first close followers.
In those days, the conventional way that rabbis acquired their disciples was that the prospective students would approach the rabbi under whose tutelage they wanted to spend some time. Of course, it would be up to a rabbi to accept, and Jesus himself was known to politely turn down an overly enthusiastic applicant eager to “follow him wherever he went”; to which Jesus response was, “well, foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” - meaning, “no place where I’d like YOU to join me, that is".
And so, it was not unusual that having first learned about Jesus’ mission and identity from John, a few curious Galileans decided to try their luck and see if Jesus would choose to teach them directly. Those men were Andrew the Protokletos (“First Called”), his brother Simon (“the one who hears”) later called Peter (“the rock”), and the unnamed individual who was likely John the Evangelist (as he often chose to avoid explicitly naming himself in his own stories). And who wouldn’t want to find out more, after John the Baptist’s enigmatic words, “behold the Lamb of God?” - his own surprising intuition, a new understanding of the Messiah’s purpose that he shared with his current disciples. These men then approached Jesus and “inquired where he was staying”, which would have been a polite way of asking a rabbi if one could study under him. It is worth noting that Jesus’ choice to accept Andrew and “the other guy” was not arbitrary, but followed a period of time of prayer in the mountainside, where he was probably already pondering their candidacies.
Jesus begins his “admission process” with just one question, “What do you seek?” Not, “Whom do you seek?”, but “What do you seek?” By no means an unfriendly question, it was intended to encourage them to crystallize in their own minds just what they really wanted to do “when they grow up”, and at what cost. For we are accustomed to viewing Andrew and Simon as fishermen, and indeed they were. Yet, in the first century, fish was a staple food, and that from the Sea of Galilee was in high demand, so they would have left behind a successful business, the family boats and equipment, etc; but also, significantly, an area of great expertise in which they must have taken pride. I find that the very first cost of making a change in one’s life is the perception that all our knowledge and experience accumulated previously is irrelevant to the new occupation, and therefore, is wasted. Is that the reason Jesus tells the brothers, “now you will be fishers of men” - to indicate that they may take some of their people-skills developed in the market square, and personal qualities honed at sea, and still make use of them even in their new life? Of course they would; just as they would also take the knowledge acquired from John, and apply it to the new truths that Jesus would teach them directly. With God, no experience is ever wasted. True, it took time for “Simon” to become “Peter”, to go from hearing his message to acting upon it, but Jesus named him as such because he expected him to grow -to change.
What do YOU seek? While the 12 apostles in the traditional sense of the term of having seen the resurrected Christ are long gone, I believe that we are called an even greater work, which is to notice the “resurrected Christ” not in his 1st century body of the gospel accounts, but in that of each human being. Like Andrew and Peter, and “the other guy”, many of us are curious to “see where Christ lives” -- to learn about him, to emulate his ethics and approach to social justice, even to enjoy some spiritual gifts and a sense of intimacy with God. But, there’s still more; a lot more work, and a lot more change that is still expected of us. To learn to be a witness to daily “resurrections of Christ”, as opposed to simply reading about the one described in the bible, means to shift the entire paradigm of how we relate to others. Do you recognize that Christ dwells in you? Maybe. But that implies that he must dwell in other people, which is a lot more difficult to accept. But let us go there, to that next level, whatever that means for each of us. Are you going to be a John or an Andrew to someone you know? John the Baptist directed his disciples to learns what he already knew, but from a new teacher. Andrew, on the other hand, invites his brother to learn together from the same teacher. So as we grow in witness to the resurrection of Christ, let us not hang on to our disciples forever, but point them to the new level of learning and let them go. As for our peers, let us invite them to come alongside of us to learn the things we do not yet know.
And so I thank each of you for being sometimes an Andrew and sometimes a John - for each other, yes, and for me also. You and I have already taught each other many things over the past year -- my first at this parish.
We are all called to periodically take stock of the experience and knowledge we achieve, and take it to a new level, wasting nothing important. Change, too, is required at times; and it is, of course, almost always unsettling even when we seek after it, prayerfully discern it, and sincerely hope that it aligns with God’s will for us. As we begin our journey into the 2021, the arrival of which has been filled with much hope, let us keep eminding each other that while God him or herself is unchanging, he expects us to embrace change and its costs, and encourage one another in doing the same.