Last night I discovered a book on my shelf . . . one I had bought so I wouldn’t forget to buy it – and then forgot to read. What a treat to read far into the night from Barbara Brown Taylor‘s book of sermons Home By Another Way. I can’t help but share her interpretation of Mark 1: 14-29 (Jesus’ call to brothers Simon and Andrew to follow him and fish for men) because it raised my adrenalin and serotonin and whatever other hormones cause joy and motivation and drive.
Here’s the gist of it. Taylor points out that the disciples who immediately obeyed Jesus’ call to “follow me” are usually looked at as “heroes” who dropped everything in their lives to be with Jesus. She says that most of us look at this story and “wonder if we have what it takes to be a disciple.”
She goes on to say, “He called and they followed, for which we tend to give them all the credit. What strength, what courage what faith those four must have had to do what they did, sacrificing everything to go after him! What heroes they were! Well nonsense. According to Mark there was nothing hard about it at all. Jesus called and they followed. Period. They did not know him. They were not waiting for him. Chances are they would not have described themselves as religious types, but they took one look at him and that was that. . . . ” They followed because he called.
She points out if they, and we, follow Jesus after a process of sacrificial and difficult choices, we all fall into the “ancient trap of works righteousness – that comfortable old delusion that we can, by our good decisions and good deeds, save ourselves. If we just work hard enough, we tell ourselves, if we pray enough and help enough, then God will claim us in the end. Christ will recognize us as his own true disciples because of all the good we have accomplished” (p. 37).
She says that 21st century Christians are particularly vulnerable to this thinking because we have so many choices, and because “we have had it drilled into our heads that God helps those who help themselves.” What we have lost along the way is “a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hapless of lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking of lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory” (p.38). Taylor argues that this passage is another miracle story, just like those where Jesus said “be made clean,” or “stand up, take your mat and go home,” or “go, your faith has made you well.” Only this time he says, “Follow me.”
“Can you hear it,” she asks. “This is no story about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow. This is a story about the power of God – to walk right up to a quartet of fisherman and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.”
This is not a story about four courageous fisherman who sacrificed all to serve their Lord. They did no such thing. If they did anything under their own power at all, it was simply that they allowed themselves to fall in love. Jesus showed up, they took one look at each other, and the rest was history. God acted and the disciples let their nets wash out to sea” (p. 40).
Taylor allows that their choice did cost these men plenty but says to stress that part of the story is to “put the accent on the wrong syllable. . . . Their minds were not on what they were leaving but on whom they were joining.” The accent on this syllable reminds me of Dallas Willard’s comment that instead of looking at what discipleship costs we should look at what “nondiscipleship” costs.
The powerful note for me – the thing that kept me awake last night – is that we don’t need to argue with or worry about God’s call or look for God’s will in the myriad of choices that we face. We simply have to allow ourselves to fall in love with Jesus. The God who calls us evidently created us to be able to follow. When we follow, our story will be different from every other’s story, but the miracle will be the same. As Taylor concludes, “Whenever and however our wills spill into the will of God time is fulfilled – immediately! – and the kingdom is at hand” (p. 41)