For two weeks now, the lectionary has led us to consider stories of people being called to follow Christ. Last week it was John 1:43-51, where Philip and Nathanael get the call. This week we are reading Mark 1:14-20, in which Simon, Andrew, James, and John are invited to follow. It is one of the functions of the church to continue this ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ. What does that look like in today's world?
Too often, deciding to "follow Jesus" merely involves quitting all of your bad habits and adopting new, good habits. When we die to our old life in order to be born anew in Christ, we tend to consider that old life as comprised of all the nasty stuff we want to eliminate - partying all night, smoking, sleeping around, cursing, drinking too much, etc. We leave that stuff behind and give ourselves to Jesus, as if Jesus is some divinely sanctioned self-help program.
But what was so bad about the lives of Philip, Nathanael, and the four fishermen? It is likely that they had a few bad habits, to be sure, but the scripture does not mention this. No, these are not examples of quitting the bad stuff in order to start living right. The disciples are invited to leave their perfectly fine, good, healthy lives and follow Jesus. Nathanael is affirmed as a person "in whom there is no deceit." He is a good person who is invited to leave it behind. Simon and Andrew are fishing, like they did every day, and they leave their nets (not their bad habits, notice), to follow him. James and John are working the family business with Zebedee, whom they leave behind (their own FATHER) in order to follow Jesus.
The point is not that we just give up the BAD stuff to follow Jesus; the point is to give up the GOOD stuff, too! Let's not minimize the demands of Christian discipleship by reducing it to a method for personal improvement. Accepting Christ into your life CAN eliminate all that "bad stuff," but the person who comes to Jesus based on that foundation has built a shaky house, indeed. The moment the temptation and opportunity to engage in that "bad stuff" arise again, Jesus leaves the scene.
John Wesley encouraged Methodists to pray as a part of the renewal of the covenant,
"I am no longer my own, but thine....
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal."
The point being, give it ALL over to God, not just the "bad stuff." I'm not sure the church is doing such a great job in communicating that message to the world. "And immediately they left their nets and followed him." All of us are at heart just regular folks trying to live our lives as best as possible. It is into these regular lives of these regular folks that Jesus comes and says, "Follow me."
P.S. - (This little extra bit seems to fit in somewhere, but I couldn't make it flow into the rhythm of the post above. Enjoy this bonus material at no extra charge!):
I think U2 is onto something with their song "Walk On." On the journey into life, "the only baggage you can bring is all that you can't leave behind." And then there is a list of all of the things that you can and should leave behind: "All that you fashion. All that you make. All that you build. All that you break. All that you measure. All that you steal. All this you can leave behind. All that you reason. All that you sense. All that you speak. All that you dress up. All that you scheme..." That doesn't leave very much, does it?