Seeing his stress, the guy invited Michael to join a group called Labre, which seeks out homeless people in downtown Chicago, offering them hot dogs, granola bars and occasional toiletries. The guy obviously knew that Michael needed to “get out of himself,” specifically by “paying forward” his grandmother’s generosity.
Fortunately, it worked for Michael, who took the risk to become a regular member of Labre during his four years in college. I recently read about him and the account of his “calling” in America magazine, making me think of how searchers for God, in a variety of unlikely ways, “find” him/her. Many people today think that searching for God is anything but risky, that it’s an accommodation to the status quo. But is it, really?
I’ve mentioned before in these blogs that in the interest of clarity and better communication with people with whom I’m trying to connect, I avoid “churchy” language and references to the Bible. The language of religion just doesn’t resonate with many people today.
But sometimes stories from the Bible, along with stories like Michael’s, best illustrate what I’m trying to say. The “call of the Apostles” in the Gospels is a case in point. This is from The Message translation of Mark’s gospel.
“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.’ They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.
“A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.”
“Yeh, right,” I’m tempted to say.
There’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense, not the least of which is the willingness of these fishermen to drop everything and follow this itinerant preacher. One important explanation, of course, is that the four gospels attempt to describe the estimated 33 years of Jesus’ life - focusing on the last three “public” years - in very few words. There’s so much left out.
Had Simon, Andrew, James and John heard about Jesus beforehand? Had they already been thinking about a career change and of joining him? Maybe they were deep in debt and wanted to get out of the business. Maybe they were tired of the hard work, long hours and uncertainty of fishing. Maybe James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were fed up with their father. After all, Jesus refers to Zebedee as “Thunder.” Did that indicate he was hot-tempered?
There is a lot more to these “calling” stories than meets the eye.
A couple of thoughts strike me about the stories’ relevance to us – people who have our own agendas, who are suspicious of the unknown, who need to be persuaded before committing to something, let alone someone.
First, these apostle recruits may have been “simple” fishermen but they undoubtedly knew what they were doing. They surely calculated the prospects of following Jesus compared to their current lives, even though they could not have seen the tragic ups and downs of a future with him. The details just weren’t included in the gospel.
Second, they probably weren’t the smartest or wisest, let alone the most prominent, people Jesus could have chosen. And they probably weren’t the most devout. They may not have attended synagogue regularly. They may have on occasion cheated buyers of their catch. They may have been in relationships that were forbidden by the religious authorities. They may not have observed the detailed laws prescribed by those authorities. They may have been on the fringes of Judaism. They may not even have believed in God. In short, they were a lot like us.
Still, they were risk takers. Although wandering preachers were common at the time, according to Scripture scholars, Jesus appears to have been unique. His viewpoint on God and God’s relationship to human beings, his demands, his compassion, his self-confidence, his strength, his persistence, his obvious ability to overcome physical and spiritual obstacles were obviously attractive. But actually committing to this preacher was risky.
So, why aren’t these attributes not attractive today, and why are so few people who long for fulfillment in their lives willing to take a risk? Instead of the Jesus who challenges us, who lovingly invites us to faith, many see a plastic, pious, other-worldly Jesus with whom they have nothing in common. Could it be that we may have grown too comfortable with our lives, too smug in our doubts, and intolerant and judgmental about people who don’t share them?
Readers who have given up on God and/or religion may think that this applies mostly to Christians. But the description fits believers and non-believers. And if we’re serious about our search for God, at some point we must become risk takers, making a leap of faith and a commitment, as did Simon, Andrew, James and John, and Michael Conway.