Call and response (Matthew 4:12-23)

‘Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.’

This week we hear again Jesus’ call to his first followers, his first disciples, and their response, which was to follow Him, not knowing where that road would take them: Jesus’ death in brutal circumstances, their scattering, their persecution, and in many cases their own deaths at the hands of their enemies.

Today is also the day in the church calendar when we remember the call to and response of – we call it conversion – the man who would come to be known as St Paul.  Previously one who had been persecuting Christians, Paul was to become the foremost of all the disciples, bringing the message of Jesus to a wide audience of both Jews and non-Jews.

The response of both the first disciples and St Paul is reported as being dramatic and immediate.  If only it was that way for us, without what-ifs, ands, ors or buts!

I love the poetry of John Betjeman, and his poem “The Conversion of St Paul” puts into words what many of us Christians must feel about our belief, our “conversion” but are perhaps too scared to admit.  No blinding light, occasional glimmers, frequent darkness, slowly turning to Jesus and continuing on upheld only by hope, not knowing what might await us like those very first followers.  He finishes the poem like this:

What is conversion? Not at all
For me the experience of St Paul,
No blinding light, a fitful glow
Is all the light of faith I know
Which sometimes goes completely out
And leaves me plunging into doubt
Until I will myself to go
And worship in God’s house below –
My parish church -and even there
I find distractions everywhere.

What is Conversion? Turning round
To gaze upon a love profound.
For some of us see Jesus plain
And never once look back again,
And some of us have seen and known
And turned and gone away alone,
But most of us turn slow to see
The figure hanging on a tree
And stumble on and blindly grope
Upheld by intermittent hope.
God grant before we die we all
May see the light as did St Paul.

The Lamb of God (John 1:29-42)

* For an explanation of my weekly Bible blogging see the page on the right hand side.  This is only the second of what I hope will be many “responses” to passages of the gospel.*

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”  I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’  And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’  They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’  He said to them, ‘Come and see.’  They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed).  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

At the Greenbelt festival in 2012 I took part in a guided meditation on the second half of this passage from John’s gospel.  It was led, I’m pretty sure, by the Salesians of Don Bosco (I may be wrong…).  The meditation began by setting the scene with John the Baptist and his followers, probably down by the Jordan river; the warm breeze rustling through our hair; the sound of the washerwomen slapping out clothes in the shallows.  And then we see Jesus the Lamb of God approaching and we follow him.  Perhaps we follow him to a house and settle down to listen to what He has to say.  Perhaps it is our house and we pay host to Jesus, bringing him something to drink or eat.

Importantly, we were to go to the Lord with a question, a question to which we wanted an answer.  We did not need to hear an answer, the meditation was not a failure if we didn’t hear an answer.  One of those leading the meditation said that someone had gone to the Lord with a question and Jesus had looked at this person for a tenth of a second, and that was the answer.

I went with the question “How should I serve you?” and the answer I got was “Well, you chose to follow me”.  Helpful?  It didn’t feel like it at the time.  Unexpected?  Probably not.  For this is the Jesus who says to those who follow him “What are you looking for?”

Some of us have chosen to follow Jesus.  What are we looking for from Him?  It’s a question worth asking.  What are our motives?  What do we look to Christ for?  Who is He to us?  What do we go to him for?

If we ask ourselves this question, the answer we get might not be one we expect.