Scripture: John 1: 35-51 Nigel Bunce
“Come and see.” An invitation. That’s John’s story of Jesus recruiting his first disciples. How different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus orders them, “Follow me.”
Mark’s version of Jesus’ call to the first disciples
This Epiphany season, I’ve been comparing how Mark and John understood Jesus’ baptism and the call of his first disciples. I am usually a much bigger fan of Mark’s Gospel than of John’s. But I have to say that I prefer John’s recruitment stories. Here’s why.
Mark describes Jesus at the Sea of Galilee. He sees some fishermen cleaning up after a night of fishing. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they simply leave everything. Boats, fishing gear, family. No questions. They just follow Jesus.
Discipleship: all or nothing?
We are supposed to marvel at Jesus’ charisma and the new disciples’ faith. It’s a recurrent theme in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Discipleship is all or nothing. No excuses, not even saying goodbye to family [Matthew 8: 21]. How reasonable is that?
But how do you think that Mrs Andrew, Mrs Peter, Mrs James and Mrs John felt when their husbands just walked out on them? Went off with some preacher they’d never set eyes on? Leaving them with the kids and no means of support?
John tells the story differently
“Follow me” is pretty peremptory. Jesus’ first disciples were already followers of John the Baptist. John repeated that curious saying, “Look! There’s the Lamb of God.” That gave his disciples permission to jump ship and follow Jesus.
Instead of, “Follow me,” Jesus asked, “What are you looking for?” And after that, “Come and see.” An invitation, not a command. I would react to that more favourably than being ordered what to do.. But that’s me. And later in the reading, Philip recruited Nathaniel with the same invitation.
What might the invitation to “Come and see” look like?
So, what might a prospective new Christian experience if they did “come and see” at a typical church? Rightly or wrongly, many non-Christians view Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic, and uncaring. They observe a disconnect between what many Christians profess to believe and how they behave.
Yes, it’s true that news media tend to focus on bad news stories. Christians, lay and ordained, who say hateful things about gays. Leaders who embezzle money, or abuse people in their care. But it’s more than that. We call the Gospel story “Good News”. Yet, institutional Christianity often emphasizes sin and death. That looks like bad news to me!
Duty or pleasure?
Last week, I said that my version of Christianity is joyful. So let me ask you, “How should we live out those baptismal promises that we made last week?” Do we grit our teeth and do them out of duty? Or do we take pleasure in them, because we voluntarily promised to do our best?
Just one example. Respecting the dignity of every human being. Duty: something we wish we didn’t have to do? Or joy, because we saw the good in the person who was different, and we hoped they see the same in us?
I’ll repeat a story I’ve told before. I once asked an elderly lady, “How do you imagine that God sees you?” She replied without any hesitation, “Well, I’m a sinner.” I said to her, “Is that how you think of your grandchildren?” She was very shocked. “No, of course not. I love them very much.” “But if God is your loving Father, surely that’s how he thinks of you?” “You know,” she replied, “I’d never thought of that before.” The Church had brain-washed this poor soul for eighty years.
Different themes to draw from the Gospels
I’m not suggesting that we human beings never do anything wrong. But human sinfulness isn’t the first theme that I pick from the Gospels. Instead, I find Jesus offering love, inclusiveness, and forgiveness. Even when we need to repent, it means turn our lives around, as I said last week. Not to wallow in our sinfulness.
Likewise, with death and suffering. Yes, Jesus ultimately suffered an appalling death. We need this at front of mind during Holy Week. Because without the Crucifixion, the Easter Resurrection story makes little sense. But the theology of death and suffering comes from a selective reading of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
I’ve spoken of this often. Paul viewed the death of the blameless Jesus at Passover as a metaphor for the sacrifice of the innocent Passover lambs. For him, Jesus’ death removed the stain of Original Sin. It offered a chance to recreate the perfect Creation. But I don’t find Paul’s ideas in the Gospels.
“Come and see.” An invitation to joyful worship.
So suppose that you decide to, “Come and see” at St. George’s. Do you really want to recite a litany about your sins? To claim you are responsible for Jesus’ suffering? How would that convince you that God loves you? Would it inspire you to try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? Or would the negativity repel you?
That negative focus leaves me with a sense of failure and inadequacy. Why even try if I’m doomed to failure? On the contrary, a message of inclusion, love, and forgiveness can inspire me to be the best I possibly can.
As a priest, I want church to be a joyful experience. I want coming to St George’s on Sunday mornings to be uplifting. Something that inspires us to try to be Christ-like, that best we can be. So, I hope that “Come and see” resonates with you too. That you’ll feel like Philip when he met Nathaniel. You’ll want to invite other people to “Come and see” Christianity in action at St George’s.
“Come and see.” An invitation to St. George’s, Lowville
Inclusion, love, forgiveness. These qualities are often in short supply in the world. They are really good guideposts to get us all through the week, and I believe that they are the true meaning of the Gospel. So, invite your friends … “Come to St. George’s and see!”