I’ve always marveled at the disciples’ willingness to follow Jesus from the beginning.
We read that Jesus came to the disciples and they dropped everything and followed him. We read this dropping everything quite literally: Andrew and Simon actually drop their fishing nets and leave it all behind.
I can’t imagine such a moment. A man walks up to me and says
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
And then I think about it for a minute and go
and walk out. I don’t shut down the laptop or grab my coat. I just walk out with a total stranger.
This isn’t even the crazy part.
The crazy part is that there isn’t a phone call home or a swing by the house with a
“Sorry, Baby! Good luck with the kids!”
“Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad! I love you!”
When Jesus calls these disciples, he quite intentionally calls them to leave their lives behind. All of who they were and what they did.
Why Jesus does this is certainly deep theological terrain. Perfect for another day. I’m more interested for us to just take on the “what” of this. As in What Jesus is actually doing with these disciples and what they are doing with him.
And the What is for the disciples to quite literally follow him. The disciples follow Jesus where he goes.
We certainly get several accounts of Jesus and what this time looks like. We also get conflicting reports that it is either 1 year or 3. I’m guessing that accuracy of time is perhaps the least important part of the conversation. Either way, we’re talking more than a few days. More than a week or a fortnight or a season.
The disciples follow Jesus. But where do they go?
We get from the writer we know as Mark a sense that the first half of Jesus’s ministry is circular and seems pretty random. They seem to wander around the countryside looking for stuff to do. Then, at a specific moment, Jesus literally turns toward Jerusalem and starts walking in that direction. And the disciples follow.
The route and act of following demonstrates an understanding of relationship and learning that is both incredibly familiar and totally alien to us. Jesus sets up a relationship from the beginning of rabbi and disciple. We might compare this to other, similar relationships: teacher and student, master and apprentice. A relationship that is both social and instructive. It is not only friendship and it is not only instruction. For this to work, it is up to the rabbi and the disciples to always be aware of the nature of their relationship.
Jesus invites them to follow him with a vision: “I will make you”. Indeed, they follow Jesus and learn from observation, and become Apostles.
How Jesus makes them into fishers of people is not through testing or classroom work. He doesn’t mandate so many hours of work or a major in Fishing Studies or Modern Evangelism. He invites them to follow him. They do. And after spending time with him, observing him, and doing the work he gives them, they will find that when it is over, they will have already been made.
This is the most important part and the hardest one for any of us to deal with: they had to act like graduates long before commencement. They had to do the work while they were learning. And the work Jesus gave them was hard.
When talking about how Christians learn, I prefer the term formation to the others (including teaching, learning, education), for the pursuit isn’t purely the acquisition of knowledge or understanding, it is that when we are done following our teacher, we will be like our teacher. We will be formed into his or her image.
Our challenge, then, is to see how we can follow Jesus and be formed in a way that matches our roots without a physical human to follow and imitate. Next week, I’ll invite us to explore this idea and how a sense of formation and discipleship may apply to our congregation.