Do you remember that we started the Advent season six weeks ago with words from Isaiah 64? The prophet put into words Israel’s longing and heartbreak, but also their faith and hope. They sounded like this: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down …”
January 24, 2021
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright A couple weeks ago the Present Word Sunday School class studied this same text. And the part they wrestled with the most was explaining how the first four disciples were able to leave behind everything and follow Jesus immediately. That is the questions scholars have tried to figure out for centuries. We join them in asking questions, like … How could Simon and Andrew walk away from their nets and their boat? How could James and John abandon their father? How could any of them leave their families? Who did they think would take over their responsibilities – feeding their families, keeping their businesses going, paying their workers? What could Jesus possibly have said that gave them sufficient reason to follow him?
Dallas Jenkins is the latest to try and answer those questions. He has co-written and directed a TV series called “The Chosen”. It is available on YouTube. (Let’s be clear: he tells the story drawing on the Bible, but filling in many gaps based on scholarship and his own imagination. He is an able story-teller, so it is plausible and engaging, but it is historical fiction! Which means it is real enough, but not real.) In the first episode, Jenkins introduces us to Simon and Andrew. We learn three things. They are fishermen with lots of competitors in a cutthroat business. Simon has a weakness for gambling – and when he loses, their money situation gets worse. The burden of Rome’s taxes is crushing. Between the gambling and the taxes they are at risk of losing their boat and their homes. Desperate, Simon makes a deal with the Roman commander to inform on other fishermen who are avoiding taxes by fishing illegally on the Sabbath. By episode 4, things have not gotten any better for Simon. As Jenkins imagines it, Simon argues with his wife. She says that he has lost his faith; that he has always tried to solve his problems on his own; that he does not trust God to help. He is at the end of his rope. He decides to do what he can. He spends one last night fishing trying to square his debts. Time after time he casts his nets into the sea and pulls them in empty. He rails at God. He says he has tried to believe, but seen no sign that God cares. Andrew arrives to help … and then James and John and their father, Zebedee. They work together, but by morning they haven’t caught anything. Simon has done everything he could. He has fought and gambled; he has schemed and fished. He has reached rock bottom. So when he sees a crowd on the shore, he is convinced it is the Romans waiting to take him into custody. But it is Jesus, teaching. The crowd is having a hard time hearing him, so he asks for Simon’s help. He asks to speak from his boat. And he tells a parable about the Kingdom of God. He says fishermen draw in a net it is full of many kinds of fish. They separate the good and put them in barrels to be sold and the bad they throw away. So it will be at the end of time. Jesus then asks Simon to cast his nets out one more time. Simon resists. It has been a long night and the effort seems pointless. But he humors him. And the catch strains the nets. It is enough to pay his debt! It is an answer to prayer. It is the miracle he needs! So when Jesus asks him to follow, he is ready. In Jenkins’ version Jesus refers back to the parable he had been telling – Peter will draw in many people as a fisherman does with a net. Jesus will sort them out. Andrew and James and John are invited too. And Zebedee gives his blessing, saying when the Messiah comes, you do not refuse!
Jesus says, “Follow me.” and Simon and Andrew, James and John all do. Why? What are their reasons? Jenkins makes his case based on scripture and some educated guesses: Simon is, by turns, desperate to escape his debts and grateful for Jesus’ answer to his prayers. Andrew was convinced by John the Baptist’s endorsement and believes Jesus is the Messiah. James and John are encouraged by their father to grab this chance! They are all good reasons for them to follow him. Once you have heard him preach and teach with your own ears and seen him do miracles right in front of you, you can’t be blamed for wanting more.
But the more important question is … what are your reasons for following him? Some of you have been at the end of your rope and prayed for help. Maybe it was financial trouble, like Simon; or an addiction; or a sickness; or depression; or a marriage on the rocks. Whatever it was, it was bigger than you could handle. And then God intervened. You would follow the one who answered your prayers anywhere. Some of you are like Andrew. You follow because you’ve been inspired by the witness of others. You trust their words; you respect their way of living; you are drawn to their faith. They don’t have to have made a scene like John the Baptist in the wilderness. It could have been the quiet zeal of your second grade Sunday school teacher; or the bubbly faith of that preacher with a voice like a foghorn; or the practical peace of a mentor who handled their broken down VW bug without cursing. Whatever it was, it made you want to discover more about the source. Some of you are like James and John. You just got caught up in what those around you were doing. Oh, you experienced what they did, but you hesitated when it came time to follow. (I remember hearing a preacher telling of an altar call when she was small. The visiting evangelist had been inspiring; others were moving down the aisle; but she was shy … and it took her friend tugging on her hand to convince her to give her life to Christ.) Maybe you know what she means. Maybe you went to confirmation because your older brother was going, or your best friend, or it was important to your parents. Maybe you attended this church for the first time because your friend didn’t want to go alone, or your kids convinced you to take them to the place their friends went. Maybe you are following Jesus now because someone else went first and you followed them. And some of you may not be sure why you follow Jesus. You were born and raised in the church. You were taught to follow, but honestly, you’ve never given it much thought. You just do. It’s like driving on the right side of the road, or covering your heart when you recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag, or buying pepperoni rolls.
In Mark’s account, Jesus doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the specific reason why people follow. He doesn’t turn away Simon because he is following for a different reason from Andrew. In fact he seems comfortable that each will have their own reasons. So he calls and hopes they will follow … because he knows where he is leading them – someplace wonderful: someplace where they will know the fullness of God’s love, and the power of forgiveness, and the joy of community. That is where God is leading us, too. Will you follow? Amen.
 The Chosen: Complete Episode One - YouTube