Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ” THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES–
” THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ” Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
The Word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!
Have you ever dreamed of something new? Maybe it’s a new car or new house. Perhaps a new job or at least a promotion. Some people dream of a new relationship, where all the conflicts in their current relationship will suddenly be swept away. Yes, that would do it.
The problem is, when and if we get the new thing, whatever that is for us, we are usually not prepared for what comes along with it. A new car means higher insurance premiums and with all the new electronics in cars today, repair bills can be more than expensive.
A new house comes with its own set of challenges. Unless it’s just been built, there are things like roofs, heating and cooling systems, hot water tanks, plumbing misfortunes, and a host of other maintenance chores that must be planned and budgeted for.
New jobs can be great but often take time you hadn’t planned on to get up to speed. And there are no guarantees you’re going to like it. Promotions are the same, with your employer’s expectations rising for you the higher you go.
We tend to take our shortcomings into a new relationship and the new ends up being a mirror of what we should have figured out in the old.
I can vouch for my statements because each new thing I just mentioned, I have had. The new car, the new house, the new job, and the promotions. I’ve had the new relationships, too. And I stand by my guns that we are seldom prepared for what comes with something new.
Today in Matthew 4, we read of Jesus calling four of his disciples; Peter, Andrew, James and John. These men were fishermen. It was their life and livelihood. They were in family businesses like many others who lived by the sea of Galilee. It was expected that these young men would follow their father’s footsteps and continue the family trade. Was there ever a question in their minds that there was more to life than fishing? Were there ever dreams in their hearts for something new?
When Jesus came a calling, what was in that calling? In other words, what did Jesus expect of these men of Galilee and what did they expect of Jesus? In Jesus’ day, it was common for rabbis to practice a trade part of the time and teach part of the time. It was common for disciples to work part time, too. Some rabbis were from priestly families, so they would have a stipend from the Temple, but many were manual laborers. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter. The word really means a construction worker, either in wood or in stone. We don’t see Jesus doing that work, even part time, after His baptism when His public ministry began. Some disciples might work seasonally and take time off between planting and harvesting, etc. This makes sense with how the Gospel accounts describe the disciples fishing occasionally, even after they had become disciples of Jesus.
Often disciples would travel together with a rabbi, and they would take weeks away to go on a teaching trip. A disciple had to ask his wife’s permission to be away from home to study longer than 30 days. When they traveled, rabbis and disciples would pool their money to buy food. Jesus received contributions from wealthy women, and they were known for supporting other rabbis too. When they traveled, the villages they taught in were expected to extend hospitality, giving them food and shelter.[i]
We know from our reading that the four fishermen left their boats, left their nets, left their fathers, and left their steady income to follow the Rabbi, Jesus. I believe this is what Jesus expected of them. It was part of the deal.
In Matthew 8:21-22 we read, “Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’” Now this might sound harsh, unless we knew the rest of the story. Biblical scholars suggest the man was not asking to literally bury his father, but rather to take a leave of absence from his spiritual duties to return home and care for the material care of his aging father, until his death, with no guarantee how long that might be. The unnamed disciple wanted Jesus to bless his request to follow Him at a more convenient time. Jesus asked the man to put the things of God first and let other family members care for the everyday needs of someone Jesus knew was spiritually dead already. There was an eagerness Jesus sensed in the fishermen, and the other disciples He called. There was no eagerness in this disciple.
The calling of God is never convenient. In first Kings 19:19-21 we read the calling of Elisha by Elijah:
So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him.
He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.
Why was this different than the story in Matthew 8? Elisha went home to bid his parents farewell, not to ask their permission. And then he sacrificed the oxen he was plowing with along with the implements, symbolically giving up his life, his livelihood, and his family to follow the calling of God upon his life.
It is said that John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback, gave away 30,000 British pounds, preached more than 40,000 sermons, and wrote or contributed to over 400 books and other writings. Just how convenient does that sound?
So what happens “When Jesus comes a calling?” We’ve already seen several aspects that help answer that question. There is, however, one last aspect I want to present; that being God calling us to a life of functional holiness. David N. Field, in the August 15, 2017 online issue of Ministry Matters, gives us a clear picture of what holiness looks like from a Wesleyan perspective.
So what was Wesley on about when he spoke of holiness? Firstly, we must distinguish it from some common substitutes. Holiness is not moralism — the following of a system of rules and regulations that condemns and ostracizes those who do not keep them. It is not social activism — the pursuit of justice in the social and political realms. It is not simplistic charity — seeking from anadvantaged position to do good to the less fortunate. It is not “spirituality” devoid of theological or ethical content. At its core, holiness is a transformative relationship with God in Christ by the Spirit that liberates us from sin, and which empowers and motivates us to love God and our neighbors. A Wesleyan understanding of holiness has the following characteristics:
▪It is a life transformed and shaped by cruciform love — it is a self-sacrificial love that gives ultimate loyalty to God and seeks the integral and holistic well-being of others.
▪It is a holiness of heart and life — it includes both the transformation of our inner attitudes, motivations, and values and the transformation of our outward behavior.
▪It is dynamic and reciprocal — a genuine inner transformation leads inevitably to outward behavioral change. At the same time, the expression of the change in concrete actions facilitates the growth and deepening of the inner change.
▪It arises out of responsible grace — God initiates the transformative relationship but we must respond to God’s work. This leads to a spiral in growth as God in turn responds to our response.
▪It is integral and holistic — it includes and integrates personal, communal and social dimensions.
Wesley was convinced that the transformation brought about by the Spirit brought true fulfillment, for by participating in such transformation one was sharing in the goal for which God had created human beings. Thus holiness leads to happiness.
So, I asked earlier, “Have you ever dreamed of something new?” In the context of “When Jesus comes a calling,” are we prepared for what comes along with that calling? Are we ready for His calling us to obedience? Are we ready for His calling us to the unknown? Are we ready for His calling us to put first things first? And are we ready for His calling us to functional holiness in our lives?
If we are, we are in for the adventure of our lives. Matthew 8:23 tells us, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” These are the things we will be part of if we heed His call and travel with the rabbi. Amen