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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: July 27, 2013
This is the 10th column in a 14-part series
By Clifford M. Yeary
Associate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study
As readers and hearers of the Gospel, the first thing we often notice about Jesus' call to those who became his disciples is the radical nature of that call. In Matthew we read, "As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother, Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him" (Matthew 4:18-20).
We needn't suspect that they had never seen or heard of Jesus before this encounter, but the immediacy and totality of their response remains a radical departure from their daily lives to this point. Their new life as disciples begins in an instant.
Beyond the radical nature of their call, however, what is dramatically illustrated is Jesus' overwhelmingly magnetic attraction. When Jesus calls someone it is never simply ignored. His call always provokes a crisis leading to acceptance or rejection.
This is made very clear when a wealthy but pious man kneels before Jesus and presents him with an all important question: "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17b). Jesus reminds him of the importance of keeping God's commandments, and the man assures him that he has faithfully observed them since his youth. "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, 'You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me'" (Mark 10:21). The man goes away sad, because, despite his faithful observance of the law, he lacks the love to do what Jesus asks of him.
This might provoke a crisis in us, who are also, by virtue of our baptism, explicitly called by Christ to become his followers. How many of us have sold all that we have and given it to the poor? In Matthew's account of this call, however, Jesus does not say he is "lacking in one thing," rather, he says, "If you wish to be perfect" (Matthew 19:21). The word for "perfect" here means "fully mature," not some impossible ideal.
The good news for us is that we have been called and we remain called, despite our imperfections. Jesus calls us to mature in our relationship with him. For most of us, Jesus' call is not so radical that we can remember the moment as being the one incredible experience that made all the difference in our relationship with God.
What remains crucial for every Christian is the life-altering pull of Jesus. If we are to mature in faith, we must expose ourselves to the one who calls us, the one whose presence will make all the difference in our lives. This is where Jesus' call to his disciples in John's Gospel can be of special help to us.
In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus' call is most often stated in terms of "following" Jesus. Jesus calls them as he is traversing the land of Israel, and so following him is much more than a metaphor. They are literally to walk behind him as he leads them in the journey of faith.
In the Gospel of John, the attraction to Jesus is every bit as pronounced as in the Synoptic Gospels, but the first call of Jesus' disciples is described in a very different fashion. In John, Jesus' first two disciples are followers of John the Baptist, and it is John himself who leads them to become Jesus' disciples.
The two disciples (Andrew, and tradition indicates the other was John, son of Zebedee, or the "disciple whom Jesus loved") "follow" Jesus, as all good disciples must, but John adds the special note of their asking "where are you staying," and that they "stayed with him" (John 1:38, 39). The root word "stay" is the same word as "abide" or "remain with."
If we are to be Jesus' disciples, it is not necessary that we become instantly perfect. What is necessary is that we abide in Jesus' presence. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic July 27, 2013. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.