And Jesus said unto Simon, "Fear not for henceforth thou
shalt catch men." And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook
all and followed him.
As I was reading today's Gospel in preparation for this Sunday, I wondered
why this particular Gospel at this time: the call of the first apostles:
Andrew and Pete James and John. Perhaps because it's the middle of summer,
a good fishing story was order. But I think the Church has something more
important to deal with. If we read the Scriptures, we will discover that
the call of the disciples happened at another time as well.
It's in the very first chapter of St. John's Gospel. The same cast of
characters. The same choosing by Jesus, only under different circumstances.
Today it was in the north, Galilee, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
In John's Gospel it's in the south, in Judea, near the Jordan River where
John the Baptist was doing his work. It would do us well to hear what St.
John says about the call of the disciple, because he puts a different twist
The next day John the Baptist was there again with two of disciples.
These two disciples were Andrew and John. As he watched Jesus walk by,
he said, "Look. There is the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what
he said and followed Jesus. When Jesus turned around and noticed them following
Him, He asked them, "What are you looking for? They said to him, Rabbi
(which means Teacher), where do you stay?" "Come and see!" He answered.
So they went to see where he was lodged and stayed with him that day. It
was about four in the afternoon. One of the two who had followed him after
hearing John was Simon Peter's brother Andrew. The first thing he did was
seek out his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah. (This
term means the Anointed.) He brought him to Jesus who looked at him and
said, "You are Simon, son of John. Your name shall be Cephas, which is
rendered Peter." (John 1: 35-42)
How do you reconcile the two calls? We appreciate the fact that the
call to discipleship is an ongoing call. It didn't happen once in the apostles'
lives and it doesn't happen once in our lives either. We are continually
being called by the Lord to be his disciples. The message is always the
same; our response sometimes varies. But Jesus is continually calling us
to discipleship, to draw closer and closer to him.
I would like to just spend a few minutes with St. John's Gospel and
show you something of what this call is all about, not only for the four
in this story, but for us as well. First of all, notice that Jesus took
the initiative. "What are you looking for?" This was more than a question
of turning around and saying, "What do you fellows want?" It was a religious
question. "Why are you turning to me? Why do you want to follow me?" It's
an open question.
Their response is, "Teacher, where do you live?" And we have to understand
this on a little different level, on a theological level. The verb - to
live, to stay, to remain, to abide, to dwell, to lodge - occurs forty different
times in John's Gospel. Forty different times! Evidently John thought this
was an important word. It truly is important because of John's theology
of the indwelling presence of God in our lives. "If anyone would love me,
he will keep my commands and my Father will love him and we will come to
him and we will make our dwelling place with him" (Jn 14:23). This is the
theology of the indwelling of the Trinity, the very first revelation of
that. So, "where do you live" is not where Jesus has his mattress. It's
where he has his life.
"Where do you live?" Jesus responds, "Come and see." There is a theological
response here, on a different level. "Coming" means faith to John. And
"seeing" is belief. "Come and see." "Do you want to know where I live?
Believe in me." That's the first step to discipleship.
The disciples went to see where he lived and they stayed on with him
that day. They responded to his invitation to "come and see." They discovered
what his life was like and they began to live in him and he in them. This
is what John had in mind as he narrates the call of the four disciples.
But there was one more step in the call of the disciples. A very important
one. Andrew found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus. It is of
the very essence of discipleship to bring others to Jesus. It is of the
very essence of our being disciples of Jesus: to be missionaries. Each
and every one of us are to bring others to Jesus. If we haven't been doing
that, we must question whether or not we are truly disciples. It's that
Perhaps I can give you an example here. The example is out of recent
history. There was a man, a Lutheran minister, by the name of Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. Living outside his native Germany in the 1930's, he observed
what was happening to his beloved country and observed something he believed
more terrible that the crimes of Adolph Hitler. What he observed was the
silence of the Church in the face of the evil. He wrote a book called The
Cost of Discipleship. (If you do not know it or have not read it, I recommend
it to you highly.) In 1939 Dietrich Bonhoeffer came back to Germany and
preached the Word of God into that evil. In 1945 he was arrested and implicated
as a conspirator in the plot to assassinate Hitler. In Spandau prison,
he was hanged with piano wire, and died a slow agonizing death.
In his book he talks about cheap grace and costly grace. People too
often, he writes, are looking for cheap grace. "Jesus did it all. He died
on the cross for me. Therefore I can sit back and I've got a free ride
to heaven'" "Cheap grace," says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "is grace without
discipleship, grace without a cross, grace without Jesus Christ living
and incarnate." "Costly grace," he says, "is costly because it causes us
to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it will cost you your life."
When we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, it is signing on
for much more than what we know when we begin our journey. It was much
more than what Mary, the Mother of God, knew when she signed on. She is
the disciple par excellence in the Scriptures. Mary, the Mother of God,
whose simple response to the request was, "I am the handmaiden of the Lord.
Be it done according to thy Word. I am open to whatever the Lord has in
store for me." Did she know about the journey to Bethlehem? Did she know
about the slaughter of the Innocents? About the journey into Egypt? Did
she know all of the hardships she would have to endure? Did she know that
she was to stand at the foot of the cross and watch her son die ignominiously
amid a crowd of jeering sinners? Would she have said her "yes" then? I
think she would have. She was open to it. In her discipleship, she said,
"Yes. Be it done to me according to your Word" (Lk 1:38).
There is no discipleship without the cross. These might be hard words
for a warm Sunday morning in July, but they are real. Jesus had to call
his disciples over and over again. He called Peter. Later on he had to
call him once more. He said to Peter, "When you were a young man, you put
a belt around your waist and went where you willed. There will come a time
soon when another will gird you and lead you where you will not." John
says, "He spoke of this to indicate what manner of death Peter was to undergo"
(Jn 21:18ff.). Peter stretched out his hands on a cross. So did Andrew.
Do I mean that in order to be disciples we have to look forward to a
violent death? Not necessarily. But we have to understand that a cross
is a part of discipleship. It is essential to it. Of course, we don't look
forward to it. We aren't masochists after all. They will be handed to us
in good time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that the "Christ we are to
reflect is the one who enters a world of sin and death, who takes upon
himself all the sorrows of humanity, who meekly bears God's wrath and judgment
against sinners, and obeys his will with unswerving devotion in suffering
and death, the Man born to poverty, the friend of publicans and sinners,
the Man of sorrows, rejected of men and forsaken by God. Here is God made
man. Here is man in the new image of God."
Christianity preaches not only a crucified Christ, but crucified men
and women as well. It's part of discipleship. It's part of the call. Jesus
said to those disciples following Him, "What are you looking for?" I suppose
we could ask the same question of ourselves. What are we looking for as
we follow Jesus?" Maybe we began to follow him as children and we absorbed
our religious faith as simply as we absorbed our mother's milk, without
much thought really. Maybe we're looking for a security blanket. "If I
can hang onto God, then I can keep the bogey man out from under the bed."
Sometime I think we look for the celestial problem solver. God is the great
problem solver, especially when we can't figure out something ourselves.
"Oh, God, help me." He is the God of the impossible who will drag us out
of whatever scrape we get into. Though all of these are good, they are
not the reasons why you and I follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do we follow him? "What are you looking for?" The only reasons to
follow him is because he called us. He called us first in Baptism. We probably
answered with a wail at that time. But he has continually called us throughout
our lifetime to come closer; to know and to love him; to see with his eyes;
to understand with his heart. As St. Paul says, "Let this mind be in you
that was also in Christ Jesus. . ." Over and over again a call to discipleship.
If we are to follow Jesus, are we always to be thinking of him? That's
impossible. But we can always be thinking like him with that kind of mind:
"What would Jesus do in this situation? What would he say in this situation?
How would he respond in this situation?" This is the kind of thinking that
drove Dietrich Bonhoeffer back into the cauldron of Nazi Germany in the
1940s. We don't have to reproduce everything that Jesus did: working miracles
and dying on a cross. But we can reproduce the love with which Jesus did
them. You don't have to be crucified with nails, but with what Bonhoeffer
calls, "the anguish of the little ones for whom he died." "Completing in
our flesh," as St. Paul puts it, "what is lacking in the afflictions of
Christ" for the sake of the Christian body (Col. 1:24).
Today is a day we reflect on Christian discipleship. What does it mean?
What are you looking for? That's Jesus' question, not mine. He is saying
it to you. Only you can answer it. "What are you looking for?" He put the
question another way after his Resurrection, after Peter had failed and
denied him: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" That's an appropriate
question as well for his disciples: for you and for me!
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.