Scripture for this Sunday:
Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; Matthew 4.12-23
Last week’s reflection upon the calling of disciples left us with the question: what are we looking for? Today’s reading, describing the calling of Jesus’ first disciples from a different point of view, makes it clear that whatever we may be looking for in terms of faith in our lives, its consequences reach beyond ourselves to those around us. After all, who picked up the responsibility of fishing for their families after Andrew and Peter, James and John dropped everything and followed Jesus? And we might remember that in several places in the gospels we are told that Jesus and his followers relied upon others – especially women – in order to support Jesus in his ministry as itinerant teacher, preacher and healer, and for the disciples to learn from him along the way. It is worth bearing in mind that those around us tend to be affected in one way or another by our desire to follow the invitation to be disciples.
For many, hearing Jesus call us to discipleship can feel like an invitation to something strange and uncomfortable. When these first four were invited to fish for people, they dropped their nets and left their boats behind. Does it have to be that radical? Do we have to leave our livelihood behind to follow Jesus? Do we have to walk away from everything we know? And what about the ones we leave behind – or the ones who share in the wider cost of discipleship? For most of us, there’s always going to come a time when we have to weigh and balance our commitments: our life of faith, the ministry to which God calls us, the families whom we support, or who support us – and it’s far from an easy balancing act. And certainly one in which we should never, ever, pass judgement on the spiritual and practical balancing acts that others have to endure.
One thing that Jesus’ first followers had to drop in order to follow him was any sense of tribalism. While the recruitment of 12 disciples was symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, it seems quite clear that Jesus expected his rather diverse group of disciples to work together across boundaries of identity of any kind to pursue a common purpose in spreading the gospel.
While embracing a part of our identity as members of a community or group can be enriching, tribalism can be a destructive force, narrowing our focus beyond the very important gospel message of seeking and supporting the common good with compassion. Observing the unfolding events in the USA this week starkly reminds us that tribalism can get in the way of fundamental justice, especially as the worst of political tribalism gets in the way of the basic provisions of human attempts to establish structures of justice.
If we look for differences in order to divide ourselves from one another we will always find them; so reductio ad absurdum – we end up living in insulated communities of one, isolated from one another and isolated from the divine purpose to which we called!
Having just completed the week of prayer for Christian unity, we are brought face to face with the obligation that the gospel requires us to cherish what we have in common as members of the body of Christ. We may have to let go of some aspects of tribal identity that we have.
It may mean recognising and accepting that the support for our ministry as disciples of Christ may be something that extends to those who are peripherally involved in the sacrifices that are often involved or required to enable us to follow our calling, those who help us along the way.
And it may mean being willing to be identified as members of the community of faith, even if that costs us something.
In this context, I was thinking about Terry Jones, who died during the past week. He was a victim of a particular kind of dementia, which involved the loss of the ability to speak – devastating for one who thrived by communicating.
It occurred to me that in the invitation to follow Christ as disciples, we should always be careful to accept and use the gifts that we have been given. Speak while you have the gift of voice. Listen why do you have the gift of hearing. Watch while you have the gift of vision. Act while you have the ability to do so. Follow while you have a leader.
Well, in terms of the last: we always have a leader. The one who invites us to follow him as learners in and witnesses to his ministry of teaching and healing.