Switchbacks on the Trail

“Immediately”  “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  I find that hard to believe.  People with lives to lead, families to care for, obligations to fulfill just up and leave it all behind.  How can that be?  How can Andrew and Simon and James and John just chuck it all?  Whatever would possess them to do such a thing—without even giving it a moment’s thought?

That word “immediately”—that’s my stumbling block.  And I know I’m not alone in this.  Others struggle with that word as well.  It sends folks scrambling.  Some folks focus on the lives the disciples leave behind.  You know that argument—the life of a Galilean fisherman was so difficult, so tenuous that of course the disciples rushed to embrace a different way of living, a different way of looking at the world.  Perhaps.  Others suggest that this story isn’t about those fishermen at all.  The way that argument goes, this is a story about God acting in people’s lives, a story about four men’s “yes” to God.   Maybe so.

There are some biblical historians who suggest that this is not even a case of an immediate “yes” to God.  These folks say that Jesus and those fishermen knew each other rather well.  The way the argument goes, Jesus had spent a lifetime hanging around the Sea of Galilee.  He knew Andrew and Simon and James and John.  They knew him. And they knew they could trust him.  So when he said, “Follow me” and they followed, it wasn’t really immediate at all.  It had been a long time in the making.  A decision growing from a relationship with the one offering the invitation.  That happens, doesn’t it.

Each of these approaches to the disciples’ quick “yes” to Jesus has some merit.  But still that word “Immediately” jumps out.  It draws our attention to the moment, to the beginning of the story of Jesus and those fishermen, and it keeps us from seeing all that follows.  Discipleship—it’s not a moment; it’s a way of life.  A way of life growing out of a relationship with God.  A way of life for Andrew and Simon and James and John, and a way of life for you and me and us together as well.  A way of life and a lifetime along the Way.

Whenever I read about Andrew and Simon and James and John dropping their nets, I find myself focusing on the call and that first response and I forget all that follows.  The challenges, the doubts, the confusion.  Disciples bickering with one another.  Followers struggling to make sense of  the parables Jesus tells. And then the moments when anyone standing nearby can see God at work in the disciples—God through them casting out demons, curing the sick, serving the hungry; God through them teaching another way of living and being in the world. The moments of sheer terror and the moments of awe that come with a life of discipleship.

“Immediately”—it can lead folks to believe that discipleship is straight line way of life, a continual and steady progression into a deeper and deeper relationship with God.  That’s not been my experience of discipleship.  And I’m sure I’m not alone in this fits and starts discipleship that seems to mark my life.  You see it Andrew and Simon and James and John and the others too.  Andrew disappears from the scene. James and John squabble about being at God’s right hand.  Simon—we know him as Peter—ends up denying Jesus.  At the end they all flee.  And then they return to the work of their discipleship.  All switchbacks on the trail.

And still I wonder—I wonder if there’s not something to that word “immediately”.  That gut-level first response the disciples make.  I wonder if we take it not as a one-time-only kind of thing but as a response we make again and again to God’s oft-repeated invitation to come along, to follow on the way.

“Follow me,”  Jesus says to us today and every day.  This he says to us as individuals and to us gathered here as the Body of Christ.  What will be our first response?  Where will it take us? The answer’s in the living—the living of our discipleship.

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