Sometimes when reading a Gospel passage for the first time, or for the first time in a while, scripture appears to do a disservice to the church. I think this passage from Matthew is one such reading, because while it illustrates for us the power of the Christ’s call to discipleship, it creates an expectation that if we don’t hear such a call, and don’t react as immediately as did the first disciples, then we are somehow not true followers of Christs and servants of the Gospel.
Many of us have heard this story numerous times about how Andrew, Peter, James and John were out fishing in the sea of Galilee, when suddenly Jesus walked by them while they were working, and it appears that each of the four immediately stopped what they were doing and gave up their livelihoods to become followers of Jesus. We are left to evaluate ourselves as disciples in contrast, and if those first four fishermen are the examples of true discipleship, then most of us are falling well short of the mark.
The word immediately, can be the most misleading term in the entire passage, but also gives us a clue to the true meaning of discipleship and what it really means to be called. Our modern understanding of the word immediate generally has to do with time. When we are asked to do something immediately, there is an expectation that it should be done in the next few seconds. But the word immediate, also means something outside the perspective of time. It can also mean “without anything in between”. In the context of discipleship, we can understand the fisherman’s response as putting nothing between them and Jesus who called them – a single-mindedness, if you will, instead of the image we too often have of fisherman who just abandon their boats, their property and their livelihoods to get up and take a walk with Jesus.
Thinking of discipleship in this way, gives us a better understanding of our call to discipleship. St. Paul writes that each of us has been “given the manifestation of the Spirit for the Common Good”. It’s true that these gifts which are made active through our calls to discipleship may be present inside the community we call the Church, but for the common good means that they are available to those outside the Church as well.
And so, we can understand this call to discipleship and image of immediate response to be a metaphor for service to others no matter what our occupations. Whether you are a pastor, a bishop, a doctor, a lawyer, a construction worker or a police officer, your call to serve is for the good of others, and when serving others, you are serving our Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone. You have heard the call to follow Jesus, and immediately, without anything in between you and Jesus, have made the commitment to follow and to serve...and to call others to be disciples.
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Devotions for Week of January 22, 2017
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.