[This reflection is an edited excerpt from this sermon on Matthew 4:18-22.]
Think, for a minute, about a time in the past few days that you were at work–your job work or working on some project or responsibility. You are grading papers or standing in front of a class full of kids. You are making lunch for your own kids or cleaning your house. You are making phone calls or painting a wall or weeding the garden or cataloging books. Whatever work you did this past week, imagine yourself doing it. . . .
Now imagine an interruption. The phone rings. A child needs a form signed. Your boss wants to talk to you for a minute. What does your interruption look like? . . . How does it make you feel? . . .
I’ll tell you how interruptions make me feel–grumpy! In fact, I’m trying to discipline myself to not do certain types of work in the evenings because I get so grumpy when I’m interrupted. And, of course, with three kids in the house, I can count on interruptions. If I am typing up a particularly profound blog entry or crafting a spiritually enlightened sermon point, I might snap at the needy child to “wait just a minute, can’t you see I’m trying to share the Good News of Jesus here?”. If my child is bleeding, I might stop typing–but you better believe I hit “save” before I get the bandaid.
One thing I rarely do is willingly abandon my work. Not when I’m right in the middle of something. Not just because someone else wants my attention.
Yet Peter and Andrew, James and John all quit their work to follow Jesus–just because he asks. They don’t dismiss Jesus with an irritated excuse–the way I’m likely to talk to the Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Well, I’d love to chat about exactly how many people will get into heaven, but I’m just about to haul in this big load of fish, so I can’t really talk right now. You can leave your pamphlet right there on that rock. I’ll take a look later.”
These guys don’t take a brief time-out to talk to Jesus, all the while glancing back towards the net, the boat, the booth. “O.K. Man. I’ve got like three minutes. What do you need? What’s so important?”
They don’t even say, “Look, Jesus, just let me give my two weeks’ notice and I’ll catch up with you down the road.”
“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Here’s one of my questions: Why did they have to leave their nets? They had to eat on the road, right? Jesus was always hanging out in fishing villages, so they could have taken their nets along, used their skills to catch fish and feed all the disciples. They could even have used the net to haul the lame people to Jesus or to help build a shelter on rainy nights or . . . I don’t know. It just seems like a net could be useful.
Isn’t it enough that Peter and Andrew follow Jesus in the first place? Why do they have to leave their nets?
The most troubling aspect of these stories, though, is that James and John don’t just leave their nets –they leave their dad. They leave him sitting there in the boat with the half-mended nets. As you might imagine, a half-mended net is no better than no net at all when it comes to catching fish. The boys leave their dad in the lurch; put the family business in jeopardy. For what? To follow some itinerant rabbi they just met. How’s that for family values?
I mean, I see how all of these guys could think that following Jesus would be a fun adventure–an interesting side trip. Definitely something different. Good stories for the grandkids someday. I get the appeal of taking on something new.
It’s the giving up–the walking away–that strikes me as hard. Really almost unfair.
It’s always hard to know how we would act in certain, hypothetical, situations. So I can’t say for sure. But I think that if Jesus had called me–once I got over my initial irritation at being interrupted; once I finished up the paragraph I was typing and saved the document; once I checked a couple of references to make sure the guy wasn’t a total nut job–I think I would have been willing to follow him. But the nets, the cash, the dad–they would be coming with me.
It’s not just that I would want to take along my stuff. I’m actually a pretty light packer. I wouldn’t need my curling iron or my waffle maker or even, I suppose, my art supplies. But my Facebook account and my saved documents; my cell phone and a paper pad and pencil. My Bible and my family and the church directory.
Peter and Andrew, James and John don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their most comfortable identities–the work and family relationships that give them value in the eyes of society and, probably, in their own eyes as well. They go from fishermen to “fishers of people,”–followers of Jesus–whatever that is!
I tend to skip over the word “immediately” in Mark because it is used so often. Everything happens “immediately” in this Gospel. But perhaps it is worth paying attention in this case: “Immediately they left their nets.” So hard. Really almost unfair.
“Immediately they left their nets.”
Maybe “immediately” is the only way any of us can ever do it.