The recent confirmation hearings had not gone well. As a whole, the nominees had been evasive and unimpressive, and Peter was frustrated. After all, how hard is it to answer a simple question? Like, are you or are you not the Messiah? Seems pretty straightforward, right? But you’d be amazed at the answers the disciples heard. “Are you the Messiah?” “Yes, I do believe that there is a Messiah.” Or “I AM in support of the general thinking about Messiahs.” The answers to the disciples’ other questions were no less confounding. “What would your priorities be as the Messiah?” “To be the best Messiah there ever was.” “Uh huh. And what about our work if we become your disciples?” “Well, first of all, you should become my disciples, because I will have only the best disciples. You will, you know, disciple me, learn from me.” “And what exactly will we learn?” “Oh, you’ll learn my style, you’ll learn how to repeat everything I say, you’ll learn crowd control, how I like my coffee….” “Uh huh. And where will all of this learning take place?” “Well, yes, I’ll mostly be in Jerusalem, at headquarters, which is this lovely little b and b. But you’ll go out all over the place, I don’t even know where, and you will likely have no place to lay your heads, but you will still have the very best discipleship. And if you don’t, well, then, it’s definitely, probably, the Romans’ fault.” Like I said. Frustrating.
And so when this new candidate presented himself, it was all that Peter could do to drag himself up to the microphone one more time. But drag himself he did, and what he saw across the room surprised him. The nominee wasn’t schmoozing or shaking hands; he was just sitting, calmly, like he was listening to something beautiful or waiting for something wonderful to happen. Peter cupped his mic and leaned over to his brother, “Where are his aides – you know, his people?” Andrew leaned back, “I don’t know – I think it’s just him.” Peter looked over his brother’s shoulder and saw James and John coming into the room. “Hey,” he called, “thanks for being here.” He pointed to the bag John was carrying and smiled. “Planning on getting some knitting done?” John shrugged his shoulders. “You know these hearings are a huge waste of time – thought I’d at least try to get this net fixed while I’m sitting here.”
Peter raised his hand and the room settled into quiet. He inwardly braced himself for another round of ridiculousness and tried to smile at the man sitting quietly at the far table. “Good morning,” he said. “I’m Simon Peter, this is Andrew my brother; James and John, some fellow fishermen, have joined us for this hearing today as well. Welcome, we’re very glad that you’re here. Would you please state your name for the record?” The man leaned again into the microphone. “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Thank you, sir. Let’s talk about Nazareth for a second. You were born there?” The man shook his head. “No, born in Bethlehem.” “Bethlehem?!” Peter started. That was a loaded answer. He heard a murmur ripple through the crowd and took a moment to shuffle through the papers on his desk. “Interesting. I don’t have that in my records. But you were raised in Nazareth, yes?” “I was.” “But now you’re in the Galilee, living in Capernaum, correct?” “Yes.” “Why the move? This isn't exactly a hot spot for a kick-off campaign.” Jesus smiled. “It is here that my journey must begin.” Peter narrowed his eyes. “Here. In Capernaum. Says who?” Jesus sat very still. “Why, Isaiah, of course.” His voice grew rich and round, and he looked around at the crowds gathered behind him, “In 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.”
Peter felt his brother’s quick intake of breath. He looked over at him, a question in his eyes. This was definitely something new. Peter looked back at Jesus sitting before him. “Thank you. I’d like to move on to your message, if that’s okay with you. You’ve been quoted as saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ That’s a pretty hard-line statement – is there anything you’d like to add to that here for us today?” Jesus looked up, directly into Peter’s eyes. “No, nothing to add. This was the message of my cousin, John the Baptist, and this is my message to all people. Including you, Simon Peter.” His eyes sparkled as he continued. “Repent, Peter, for the kingdom of the heaven has come near.”
Peter felt, rather than saw, John put down his mending. Andrew was sitting forward in his chair now, and Peter actually heard the smile on James’s face as he uttered a little, “Hmm.” And all the while, Jesus just kept holding Peter’s eyes, like he was listening to something beautiful or waiting for something wonderful to happen. Peter took a deep breath and asked, “So what do you want out of this?” “That is what I want,” Jesus said. “For me to repent? But there’s nothing in that for you.” “Oh no,” Jesus replied, “there is everything in that for me. For I am for you.” Peter felt Jesus’ eyes holding him, holding on to him, and he found that he had only one question left. “Who…who are you?” Jesus smiled and stood. “Follow me. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of women and men.”
John was up like a shot. His net, half-mended, slipped to the floor, forgotten. James was already stepping around the table. Peter and Andrew turned to look at each other again, speaking with their eyes in the way that only siblings can do. Are you going? Because I’m going…. And they went. Just like that. They went to follow the one who offered them nothing more than an invitation to follow him. They went to follow the one who offered them nothing more, and nothing less, than his whole self.
We say sometimes that we do not know how the disciples did this. What was it about Jesus, about what he said or did, about how he looked or how he spoke, about the gleam in his eye or the warmth in his touch that led the disciples to respond to his call? What was it about this moment that led them to jump in this way? We say that we do not know, and yet we most certainly do. We all know what it is to respond to Jesus’s call. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. Each of us knows what it is to hear Jesus’ call and to respond, to leave something behind and to follow. This morning, each of us stopped doing something in order to come here – you put something down, put something away, chose to move. Christ was with you, called you, and you responded to his holy disruption, his call to sit with these fellow disciples, to worship him, to pray, to repent, to take, and eat.
How can we respond in this way? Not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is. His call is unlike any other. His is the call of one who goes with us, who will never ask us to go someplace he hasn’t gone before. His is the call not to follow an ideology but a man, a man both human and divine, who calls us not for his own sake, but for ours. His is the call of the Messiah who saves, not a magic man who promises to solve all of our problems. His call is a real invitation, a real question, and a real answer.
And if, in our discipleship, we ever have any doubts about whose call we follow, all we need do is look here. Here is the one we follow; here is his heart and here are his priorities. Here is the cross, which is foolishness to those who love power but true wisdom to those who know the power of love. Here is the cross, and here is confirmation. Here is the confirmation that God is for us, at all times and in all places. Here is the confirmation that God sides with us, especially when we are weak and powerless. Here is the confirmation that God chooses us, especially when we are humble and meek. Here is the confirmation that God desires freedom for all people, that God has freed us from sin, freed us from death, freed us from tyranny, even at the cost of his own son. Here is the cross of Christ, and Christ is calling you. Get up, jump, and follow him, follow him still, follow him again, follow him further, follow him forever. For there is work to be done. There are people to be gathered up in the divine web of love; there are people to be served and offered shelter in the shadow of the cross. There are people sitting in darkness who need to be shown that the light has already dawned. There is work to be done, and so this hearing is adjourned.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
22 January 2017
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia