18 As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 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.
A US president is involved in a process of seeking confirmation of candidates for office. The Senate Confirmation Hearings are still underway to either grant or refuse approval of his most recent choice for various offices. The candidates are being evaluated on matters of character, track record, and abilities. In this process some candidates have been found to have too many skeletons in the closet and are being opposed. Others think they have passed enough of the tests of leadership, and wants them approved.
If Washington were to investigate the people whom Jesus chose, and to check out their qualifications for office, they would have been astounded by the selections that he made. The headlines would have run, “Messianic Candidate makes disastrous decision.”
I have been a long time member of Ministerial Credentialing Committees. We are asked to evaluate the gifts and graces for ministry of men and women applying for ordination. I am pretty sure that if any of the 12 apostles had turned up for our perusal, we would have been gracious, but we would have suggested they consider plumbing instead of preaching.
Who were these people that he chose?
His Call is to Ordinary people
At best, the people Jesus chose would be considered very ordinary. They were not scholars. They were not educated. They were not community leaders. They were not cultured. On top of all of that, they did not seem to be particularly religious.
Matthew tells us, in chapter 4, of the choosing of some disciples. The first four disciples, Andrew & Peter and James & John were fishermen from the Galilee. And ask anyone from Judea about Galileans and they would have smirked and told us their version of an ethnic joke. Galileans came from the wrong side of the tracks. It was the area known as “Northern Israel” and everyone knew their history. They were seen as a little less godly, a little less civilized, than those who lived in Judea. The Galileans had this terrible “Brooklyn Accent” with personality to match.
But besides being Galileans these men were blue-collar workers, plaid-shirt workers, the working class. Commoners. They preferred the country music of Willie Nelson and friends over Beethoven or Bach.
George Bernard Shaw who wrote the play Pygmalion that was later made into the musical My Fair Lady said, “I have never had any feeling for the working classes, except a desire to abolish them, and replace them with sensible people.” Elisa Doolittle only had value for Shaw if she learned correct diction and could be passed off as sophisticated. Most Judeans living in urban Jerusalem felt precisely that way about their country cousins from the Galilee.
But Jesus did not share such bigotry. He had grown up in a little village in the middle of nowhere. He had worked side by side with such men for a good part of his 30 years. He knew that they were made of sturdier stuff than some of the effete snobs in the nation’s capital.
However, if I had been allowed to be the personnel manager for Jesus, with freedom to choose the kind of followers he really needed, I would have chosen the rich young ruler. He already had leadership experience. He had position and wealth and class. I would have chosen men like Nicodemus who had an inside track to the ruling authorities of that day. At the very least I would have chosen leaders of good Judean stock. Jesus, however, chose eleven from Galilee, and only one from Judea. The one from Judea was named Judas Iscariot. Now he looked like a good choice, with a strong financial background!
But Jesus chose very ordinary people: people like us. By the way, God had a habit of doing that all the way through the Biblical record.
Moses has spent 40 years in hiding. One day God tags him and says “You’re it.” and Moses says, “I can’t go. I can’t even speak coherently.”
God puts his hand on the shoulder of the teenager Jeremiah and says, “I’m hiring. I want you to come work for me.” and Jeremiah says, “You can’t choose me! I’m still a kid.”
God said to Gideon, “Got a job for you!” Gideon says in good Hebrew, “You ‘ve gotta be kidding. My family is the least of all the families, in the least significant of all the tribes, and I am the least important member of my family. You must have made a mistake.”
One day God chose David, the youngest son of Jesse, passing over his stalwart older brothers, and said to a young stripling, “How’d you like to be king?”
God chooses commoners to do his most important work.
His Call is ALSO to busy people
When Jesus called the first 4 to be his disciples it is interesting to note what they were doing.
Simon and Andrew were fishing. James and John were mending their nets to get ready for their fishing later that day. They were hard at work. Jesus was not offering a job to those who would respond to any offer because there was nothing else to do. They were not desperate people who had failed at everything else they had tried, so said “Why not? I’ll try anything once and any job looks good right about now!” Oh no! They were occupied already with busy lives.
In the Old Testament, Amos could say when someone asked why he was preaching to them, “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I was a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit, and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and he said to me, “go and speak to my people.”
Elisha was called to follow Elijah when he was plowing in the fields. He was part of a 12-man contingent helping to steer 12 teams of oxen down the field. When he heard the call to follow, he was up to his ears in work at one of the busiest seasons of the year, plowing and planting time.
God calls common people like you and me. But He also calls busy people, who think that they couldn’t squeeze one more event or obligation into their lives, just like you and me.
Some of us say, “I’m too busy to be a disciple, let me be just a spectator in the kingdom. Let me look on from a distance and cheer the church on its way. Right now don’t ask me for much of my time or energies. Life is super-busy right now. Call again when my kids are grown up. Call me again when my business is on its feet. Call me again when I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.”
The strange thing is that God tends to call us to his service when we are busy. When we have nothing to do, it seems he doesn’t have much for us to do either. Strange conundrum!
Why would God call busy people? It may be that he has no calling for those who are more comfortable in monasteries or Tibetan retreats, who want to be disconnected from the world. He calls people who want to be immersed in the world. It is the intention of God that his followers be light in the world, and the salt in the earth, and yeast in the bread. So he is looking for people who are not in full retreat from life, but are up to their eyebrows in living out their span of life.
Out of the many disciples that followed him, he chose 12 to hold a unique position. They were appointed as Apostles & Missionaries. If you are comfortable with the image, they were called to be the clergy.
But the other disciples, he sent home. Not that he had no use for them, or that they were too common or too busy for his purposes. Oh no! They were to be disciples in their current vocations, in the middle of the round of family and community activities. They were to return to the busyness of their lives, but, with this difference. They were now the influence of the Kingdom in every factory, and in every office, and in ever institution, and in every village and in every home. They were to be the presence of the Kingdom on their baseball team, and on the golf course and in their book clubs. Their busyness and involvement in a thousand tasks was not seen as a liability, but as an asset. Jesus was not looking for those desiring to escape life, but for those he could work with to redeem life.
His call is to flawed people
But he called not only ordinary people, and busy people, but he called flawed and damaged people. Why would He do that?! He chose such people because his kingdom is to be built on a very different blueprint than any of the other kingdoms of the world. Other kingdoms have the strong ruling over the weak. They have the powerful manipulating the lives of the common person. Most kingdoms, little and large, have existed for the benefit of their leaders and only incidentally for the good of its peoples.
But the Kingdom Jesus is founding, with the 12 serving as its footings and its foundation, is to be for the good of its citizens. It is to be a society with mutual care for one another. It is not to be governed by the powerful, but by the weak. It is a place where wounded people will care for wounded people. It is where servanthood is the mark of its leaders. It is a kingdom where the powerless are enabled to live lives more wholesomely so they can be helpful in enabling the lives of others.
Then what kind of leaders could be the foundation of such a movement? Only those fully aware of their own weakness, those aware of their own frailty.
Listen to Paul as to he speaks to the church in Corinth. (I Corinthians 1:26)
Consider your calling, my friends
Not many of you were wise by human standards
Not many were powerful,
Not many were of noble birth.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
God chose what is low and despised in the world.
That is God’s way. And when Jesus chose his disciples, he chose people just like you and me. And as we read the rest of the Gospel story, we see them following him. But they followed him at times with fear. Followed him at times at a distance. Followed him with confused minds and hearts. But they followed him.
There is a story told of the day when the young Greek Xenophon first met Socrates, perhaps the greatest Philosopher of all time. They met in a narrow lane and Socrates barred the way of Xenophon with his walking stick. First Socrates asked him where he could buy this and buy that. Xenophon gave the answers. Then Socrates asked him where this was made and that was made. Xenophon gave him the required information. Then Socrates asked, “Do you know where people are made good and virtuous?” “No” said Xenophon. “Then”, said Socrates, “Follow me and learn.” Jesus offers the very same invitation!