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At Theology on Tap on Tuesday, I was talking about some of the readings that always come up during the Epiphany season. Right now, we’re in what we call the “season of Epiphany”, and it always begins with two stories: the story of the magi visiting Jesus, and the story of Jesus’ baptism.
But after that, we almost always read stories of Jesus calling his first disciples. This sometimes goes on for several of weeks. Indeed, if you were paying close attention, you may have noticed that today’s Gospel reading actually repeats something we heard last week – the call of Peter and Andrew as two of Jesus’ first disciples. Last week, we read John’s version, where Jesus meets Peter and Andrew in the Jordan valley where John the Baptist is baptizing. And today’s Gospel is Matthew’s version, where Peter and Andrew were in their boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Sometimes, we skip over these stories as mere prelude. They often sound kind of repetitive (as indeed they are this week.) And it can seem as though the Gospel writers are just setting the stage for the real action that’s about to come.
But these stories actually raise some interesting questions. Among them is this one: Why did Jesus bother to call disciples anyway? And why did he do it right at the beginning of his ministry?
Why? It probably was NOT because he needed:
- Help – indeed, for much of the time, the disciples don’t seem to be much help; often, they’re anti-help! They frequently mis-understand Jesus, fight amongst themselves, and don’t get with the program Jesus has in mind…
- Expertise – if so, Jesus would have called people who were good at community organizing, public relations, public speaking, and maybe even legal counsel! But he didn’t. He called people who were fisherman, tax collectors, rebels and even people who seemed to have no particular skill sets at all…
- Critical mass – that is, Jesus didn’t seem to need a core group to create buzz or draw a crowd. It seems that everywhere Jesus went, people wanted to listen (even if they got upset at what he said.) His fame spread pretty quickly, even when he told people to be quiet. And from pretty early on, an actual problem the Gospels say Jesus had was that the crowds so pressed in on him that he had no time to eat or sleep. So, he didn’t need a posse …
So why is it that Jesus even bothered with disciples? Why did he do this right from the very beginning (as opposed to later when there might be a need to expand the franchise)? And why do all four of our Gospels mention these stories?
Well, as the story of Jesus’ ministry progresses, it seems clear that Jesus is intent on:
- Creating community in which people experience the presence of God, not just in giving people personal, private religious experiences; It seems that nobody ever has an experience of Jesus in isolation. Even when somebody has a private conversation with Jesus, that always turns into a communal and public experience (for example, the first disciples are always called in pairs, and they invite others to join them; even the woman at the well goes and tells others, who then come and listen to Jesus). The disciples begin the community of Jesus, through which God is more deeply experienced … (this is a really important thing to remember in our current time and place, when so many people define “religion” and “spirituality” as private, personal experience or piety…)
- Including everybody – there were indeed lots of religious teachers and miracle workers in Jesus’ time and place; one of the things that made Jesus unique was that he included everybody – not just the pious or religious zealots; Jesus included people nobody else included: outcasts, women, Gentiles – and the ordinary people like fishermen – to make it clear that he was there for all, not for the pious few… (which is important to remember in a time and place when so many people – even Christian groups – define who’s in or out by their personal moral behavior or whether they’re socially and politically far enough left or right …)
- Working through others, even those who didn’t always understand or get with the program! Even though Jesus can and did work faith and miracles without any help from the disciples, it’s also true that he sent the disciples out, both before and after his Resurrection, to share the news with others. People found out about Jesus because of the living witness of the disciples, and that’s often how Jesus still works … (Bishop Chilstrom used to tell the story of his mother telling him, “You may be the only Bible someone reads”)…
And so this weekend, we hold our annual congregational meeting. And because we call it a meeting (which it is!) everybody’s eyes start to glaze over, and we think, “oh no, not another meeting!”
But what this meeting is really about is gathering this community of Jesus’ disciples, and considering how we can be that community of Jesus in the coming year. And Jesus has gathered us together, not because he needs our help, or expertise or a group to create buzz.
Jesus has gathered us together, and continues to gather us together, because he wants us to be his community in this time and place. And like those first disciples, he’s gathered us as community because he wants us to have a deeper experience of his presence and God’s love through the community we share with one another. Like those first disciples, Jesus has gathered us a community, because he wants to make it clear in this time and place that people from all over and all walks of life are included in God’s plan. And like those first disciples, Jesus has gathered us together because he wants to work through us together as a community (not just as individuals) to share his love and message with others, and to be his living presence in the world around us.
That what’s Jesus’ disciples have always been called to do and to be. And that’s who Jesus calls us to be as well.