The gospels have two separate traditions about the calling of the disciples Peter and Andrew. One of them we looked at last week. The other version combines it with the calling of James and John, as we’ve heard this morning. That story is one of the dramatic scenes that Matthew is so fond of repeating.
“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.” [Matthew 4:18-22]
Can you imagine what it would take to make you drop everything, right then and there, and go?
John Allen, a U.C.C. pastor in Wellesley, Massachusetts points out that it might not have taken much to get them to do that. When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, that meant he came preaching that the Roman Emperor was not the be-all and end-all. Fishermen were heavily taxed and had to pay for the privilege of fishing whether or not they caught anything. The proceeds went to support the soldiers who occupied their country. He points out how the historian Josephus records that in the year 37, Galilean peasants who were in the same position simply stopped farming as a general strike to protest Roman offenses against the Temple in Jerusalem.
“Jesus is inviting Simon and Andrew to take a profound economic risk and he is calling them away from the business of feeding empire and toward the work of healing, teaching, and loving ordinary people. The young men’s eagerness to follow Jesus is striking: they walk away briskly from the life they had known, even abandoning family. This is a response to Jesus’ charisma to be sure, but it also bears witness to a smoldering sense of dissatisfaction in the brothers, a sense that they were ready to leave behind the tasks of a dominated people and seek new freedom with this leader.”
The call of Jesus always means turning away from something, but it always means turning toward something else that turns out, in the long run, to be better. It means leaving behind a life ruled by frustration or fear or greed or power games – all the things that the Bible calls “works of the flesh” – and toward a life of freedom that reaches for justice.
When I think about people in our own day who have experienced that kind of call, a man who comes to mind is Millard Fuller, who founded “Habitat for Humanity”. This is from the obituary page of the New York Times for February 3, 2009. It’s long, but bear with me, and listen for the same theme, of how Jesus calls people away from one way of life and into another.
“Millard Dean Fuller was born on Jan. 3, 1935, in Lanett, Ala., then a small cotton-mill town. His mother died when he was 3, and his father remarried. Millard’s business career began at 6 when his father gave him a pig. He fattened it up and sold it for $11. Soon he was buying and selling more pigs, then rabbits and chickens as well. He dabbled in selling worms and minnows to fishermen. …
Mr. Fuller went to Auburn University, running unsuccessfully for student body president, and in 1956 was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He graduated from Auburn with a degree in economics in 1957 and entered the University of Alabama School of Law.
He and Morris S. Dees Jr., another law student, decided to go into business together while in the law school. They set a goal: get rich.
They built a successful direct-mail operation, published student directories and set up a service to send cakes to students on their birthdays. They also bought dilapidated real estate and refurbished it themselves. They graduated and went into law practice together after Mr. Fuller briefly served in the Army as a lieutenant.
As law partners, they continued to make money. Selling 65,000 locally produced tractor cushions to the Future Farmers of America made $75,000. Producing cookbooks for the Future Homemakers of America did even better, and they became one of the nation’s largest cookbook publishers. By 1964, they were millionaires. …
Mr. Fuller’s life changed completely after his wife, the former Linda Caldwell, whom he had married in 1959, threatened to leave him. She was frustrated that her busy husband was almost never around…
There was much soul-searching. Finally, the two agreed to start their life anew on Christian principles. Eschewing material things was the first step. Gone were the speedboat, the lakeside cabin, the fancy cars.
The Fullers went to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in Georgia, where they planned their future with Clarence Jordan, a Bible scholar and leader there. In 1968, they began building houses for poor people nearby, then went to Zaire in 1973 to start a project that ultimately built 114 houses.
In 1976, a group met in a converted chicken barn at Koinonia Farm and started Habitat for Humanity International. Participants agreed the organization would work through local chapters. They decided to accept government money only for infrastructure improvements like streets and sidewalks.
Handwritten notes from the meeting stated the group’s grand ambition: to build housing for a million low-income people. That goal was reached in August 2005, when home number 200,000 was built.”
That just blows me away. All of that happened because the Fullers realized that they needed to save their marriage, and that what had endangered it was a kind of endless drive toward acquisition and outward success that our society both applauds and nourishes. When its consequences began to show themselves, Jesus called out to them, and called them out of that into something better – and look what it has done for other people’s lives, as well.
There’s never any way to know who will hear that call next, or how it will reach them, or what they may be doing at the time. There’s no way to tell where it might take them.
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8]
All I can say about that is to keep your ears open, because the call will come to you at some point and in some fashion. Be ready then to put down whatever you’re doing at the time, and be ready to enjoy the journey.
 John Allen, “Leave Your Nets: the Politics of Matthew 4:12-23” in Political Theology Today (January 20, 2014). Found at http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/leave-your-nets-the-politics-of-matthew-412-23/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+powerintheblog+%28There+is+Power+in+the+Blog%29&subscribe=invalid_email#blog_subscription-4