In the Name...
Teaching about today’s Gospel in his class, a Sunday School teacher had a terrible cold that affected his voice, so, his students thought they heard that Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you vicious old men.”
I think we're all familiar with the episode presented in today's Gospel. Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their nets and join him. But, there's another person, mentioned by name in the story, who is not called and who does not follow and it's sad, really, because it's Zebedee, the father of James and John. And it's even sadder because Zebedee was Jesus' uncle, the husband of Mary's sister Salome.
Thanks to Hollywood, Jesus has become such a larger than life figure that it's hard for us to remember that he lived in a real family and had relatives. But, he did, and he had parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and nephews and cousins and everything that makes up an extended family. Just like most of us. And he got on well with some of them and not so well with others. Scripture records times when his nearest and dearest despair over him. And I wonder if today's Gospel was such a moment for Uncle Zeb.
Like any parent, Zebedee must have had dreams for his sons. Ever since they were children he must have looked forward to the day that they would take over the business. Commercial fishing was hard work, but, it was a good living. Zebedee could afford to hire employees. In fact, he also owned a house in Jerusalem and had lucrative contracts supplying fish for the movers and shakers in the city. His customers included Caiaphas the High Priest, who knew the father and his sons quite well.
And James and John were good boys - hard workers and quick learners. They were deeply spiritual, John especially. They were concerned about the state of their society and how people's lifestyles had become more secular than sacred. And they were very close to their first cousin, Jesus, with whom they'd grown up.
By the way, I didn't just make this stuff up. It's all there in the Bible. Just connect the dots. And the point is that Jesus wasn't a complete stranger to these people. He didn't just appear out of nowhere. He couldn't have. If you're hard at work and some totally unknown person asks you to drop everything and join him how would you react? See what I mean?
No. These people knew Jesus long before he asked them to follow him. They'd eaten at his house and he at theirs. They'd spent years sharing their thoughts and aspirations, hopes and goals. Jesus had even travelled with James and John to the Jericho region to hear the preaching of another relative, John the Baptist.
Maybe Zebedee had hoped that trip would get some of the religious enthusiasm out of their systems. After all, one should practice one's faith, but, one also has to eat. Then, one day, nephew Jesus walks up and asks his sons to follow him. Everyone had to know what that meant. They would leave their father and abandon the family business. They would give up their security for an unknown future.
Imagine the scene. James and John looked into their father's eyes. What should they do? Would he give them permission to pursue their dream, or would he demand they stay and fulfil his? So, it wasn't just James and John. Zebedee also faced an important decision that day.
In our society, we reject, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously, we reject the notion of parental authority over adult children. We live in an age that values autonomy, the individual's right to determine his or her own future. But, those were not the values in Capernaum that morning. The authority of the father was more than respected, it was law. Zebedee could have said, "No. You may not follow." And, being the kind of men Scripture records they were, his sons, even in their 20's and 30's, would have obeyed that decision. So Jesus' words, "Follow me" are, in fact, addressed to Zebedee, after all.
The biggest struggle of any parent is to let go. The biological connection of parenthood is a very powerful emotional bond. Yet the struggle begins early. The first cord is cut on the first day of pre-school. Baby is growing up and entering a brave, new world.
One day, a priest, an atheist, and a rabbi were discussing life issues and the priest said, "We consider the foetus to be human at the moment of conception." The atheist said, "We consider the foetus to be human when it can survive outside the womb." The rabbi said, "Well, we don't consider the foetus to be human until it graduates from law school."
The second big struggle for any parent is to accept their child's career choice. My son, the doctor; my daughter, the CEO; status phrases that parents use and why not? It's natural for parents to want great things for their children. Of course, as a friend of mine put it, "You raise them to think for themselves and then you spend the rest of your life worrying about what you've done."
How intensely do you think Zebedee worried when he later heard rumours about the confrontations between Jesus and the religious authorities? How do you think he handled the knot in his stomach when he heard his best customers wanted to kill his nephew? His own sons might be in harm's way. Had he done the right thing when Jesus stopped by his boats? But, Zebedee knew he had to accept the choice he had made.
The third struggle for a parent is accepting that you've done the best you could. Often in life we wish we could relive the past or do something different in this situation or that, but, the fact is that if we had that chance, we'd probably do most of the same things again. We are who we are, with all our strengths and weaknesses. And we pass those along as much as anything. Zebedee was a certain kind of person. He raised his sons a certain kind of way. And he knew when they looked at him that one reason they would ever consider following Jesus was because of the things he had taught them.
The most important decision for Christ that day by the lake was made by the father of two sons. It was a struggle and it cost him, emotionally, professionally, personally. But, we know he stood by his decision and continued to support his sons and the ministry to which they had been called. We know this for a fact, you see, because his house in Jerusalem had a large Upper Room.
May we always have room for Christ and follow when he calls.
In the Name....