Immediately? - For The Third Sunday In Ordinary Time (1/23/05)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, 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 sea 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. (Matthew 4:12-23)[NRSV]
Do you do anything immediately? I don't even hit the off button on the clock radio immediately; I burrow under the comforter and wait for my husband to do it.
This passage has intrigued me for a long time. Did the disciples "immediately" leave their boats and their nets and follow Jesus? What about their wives, children, mortgages? Didn't they think about storing their nets, or selling the business? What were they going to do about their health insurance and 401(k)s?
A couple of years ago I served on a church committee to call a new associate pastor to our church. We began our meetings with prayers, readings, and discussion, and one night we spent quite some time on this passage. What did "immediately" really mean?" Did these disciples respond just as the story tells it? Any embellishment here? Or forgotten details? We knew that we wanted someone who would respond to our church's call wholeheartedly and without reservation, who would see it as Christ's call on his or her life -- but we didn't expect the response to come immediately, or overnight. In our church we talk a lot about discernment, and about the importance of understanding whether we are really called to a next step. What does "immediateness" have to do with it?
My best guess, taking the life of Jesus as a whole, is that circumstances, both external and internal, dictate our reactions. At times we are called to respond "immediately" and at other times we know that we need to wait and take stock. Certainly Jesus himself often took take away to pray before acting, and at times his own actions or words seem strangely delayed. The family of Lazurus criticizes him for not making haste to his friend's deathbed. He frequently tells his followers not to reveal what he has been up to. The events of his life unfold over time, as do ours, and the revelation of his reality continues to unfold, two thousand years later. Most things take time, at least in the universe as we humans experience it.
So what about the disiples and the immediacy of their response? For me, this year, that word, repeated twice, has to do with the attentiveness and awareness that is emphasized so strongly in the Bible. During Advent, the texts called for attentiveness to what was about to happen in the world. As Jesus' ministry begins, the same call is apparent, but the ominous tone of Advent is missing. No Jesus railing about end times to his followers,no angels appearing to young people who had thought they were just going about their daily business, no prophets ranting in the wilderness. Just a young man with an extraordinary charisma, standing on the beach and calling fishermen to a new task and a new life. I imagine the day as a sunny one, the water quietly lapping at the shore, the workers talking and laughing as the day is getting underway -- until they decide to respond to the young man on the beach.
What did they feel? A sense of urgency? A seriousness of purpose? An overwhelming internal insistence that they follow? A realization that new lives and new ends lay before them? Or were they relaxed and cheerful, thinking that they were going to pass a day or two with this new fellow and would be back at work by the end of the week? Who knows?
Perhaps it is only in retrospect that the emphasis falls on the word "immediately." Perhaps it was decades later, when the stories were finally written down, that the writers chose to emphasize the speed and completeness with which the disiples embraced their new lives, because they as writers saw what had come to pass as so dramatically distinct from all that had gone before or since. Perhaps it was only much later that the change in the circumstances of the human world was so vivid that it could only be relayed as a great drama -- because that's what it was, whether the disiples knew it at the time or not. And the call to us, with its immediacy and directness emphasized, is to be alert and aware, at all times. Regardless of what we are doing -- washing dishes, typing, writing on a blackboard, checking a heartbeat, washing down an animal -- and what we know, or don't know, we could be called elsewhere, to a new life, just like that.