From “The Message” paraphrase we hear these words: “A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.
Although not exactly a reflection of what is happening in this passage, images from the song “Suds in the bucket” flashed into my mind as I considered the emotions emerging as these two young men, trained to fulfill critical roles in the family business, take off to follow this son of a carpenter who is talking about establishing the Kingdom of God.
I could see Zebedee starin’ out the window scarchin’ and a rackin’ his brains. How could 18 years just up and walk away?
They left “their tools” in the bucket and the nets hanging out on the line.
That image faded as I took a closer look at Zebedee in the passage.
He is mentioned three times in the two sentences describing James and John heading off with Jesus to go fishing for people.
James and John are identified as Zebedee’s sons,
Zebedee is the one identified to be in the boat with them, and
Zebedee is the one abandoned.
Yet there is no mention of Zebedee questioning who this Jesus is, no indication he thought the Call to his sons was misplaced, no parental yelling out to his sons pointing out their departure put the family business at risk. No indication he invoked parental authority in anyway.
Maybe we don’t hear Zebedee’s voice because what is important to the passage is that James and John immediately answered the Call from Jesus, that they didn’t let anything hold them back, including family obligations.
If that is the case, we could arrive at the understanding that everyone’s call requires them to leave everything behind, to abandon people they love, to take immediate dramatic action if they are to follow Jesus.
Last week’s look at the disciples who went and stayed with Jesus for awhile, suggests sometimes it takes some time to consider the invitation Jesus extends. Andrew and Simon Peter were among those who spent some time staying with Jesus. If this passage reflects a later time, rather than a different telling of their Call, they had returned to what they knew how to do. They hadn’t left to join Jesus yet, indicating they had to think about it for awhile.
Two who are called gathering more information and thinking about it before acting, and two who are called responding immediately.
One Call – that of following Jesus – ultimately accepted by all four of these fishermen turned disciples – yet the process for answering is somewhat different.
I think it is different for Zebedee as well. Maybe we don’t hear Zebedee’s voice because we experience his role in the story in another way. For some, his role is the one closest to our own experience.
Something in Zebedee’s parenting, his leadership in his family, the spiritual and business education and training he provided his children, his relationships with community, empowered his sons to recognize the importance of what Jesus called them to be.
It prepared them to recognize what being part of something greater than themselves as individuals meant, as well as how to work as a team. In many ways we hear Zebedee in the actions of his son.
I think we also hear Zebedee’s voice in the evidence that he kept doing what he did best, providing food for his family and community. When we find the disciples after Christ’s resurrection they are back fishing. If the family business was dissolved, there wouldn’t have been anything to go back to. It seems Zebedee answered the call to help build this God directed Kingdom in his own way, providing love, support, and sanctuary.
For many of us, that is how we answer the Call to Follow. We build our relationship with God, family, and community. We build teams that affirm, empower, and challenge the members. We work to provide for not only ourselves, but our families and others. We make our day in and day out decisions on what is best for building the Kingdom, looking to God for guidance through the life of Jesus as revealed by the Holy Spirit.
There are those calls on our lives which require we leave family and friends behind, travel to other places, connect with new teams. They may come in short-term mission trips or in life-long commitments to a community struggling for physical as well as spiritual survival.
Several youth from our Annual Conference recently traveled to Nicaragua on a Mission of Peace this month where they experienced a different climate and culture, as well as laid concrete block and built relationships. They answered a Call to connect with others in a place unlike what they know, to be part of the kingdom growing in a location far from their current home.
One of the women who attended undergraduate school with me has lived and worked with the Palestinian Christians for nearly 30 years. She responded to a Call that took her far from her Mid-West farming roots, putting her in the position to make a difference in the lives of many who are just trying to survive in a hostile environment, answering a Call which led her to new relationships within the Kingdom.
One of members of the Rotary Club in Akron sold his business and his home, moving into the inner city to live and work with refugees who had to leave everything behind because of the conditions in their home country. His Call was to leave everything behind in order to serve others.
Then there are those calls on our lives that require we stay where we are planted, like Zebedee. Calls to share God’s love with those within and without our faith community. Calls to build teams that can nurture and empower in such a way that decisions based on the values of God’s Kingdom are easy to discern and to live out. Calls to sometimes provide the expertise and time, sometimes to provide the nourishment, and other times to provide the finances which share God’s love.
It is not easy to build the support system that launches our spiritual children out into the world in meaningful ways. It takes deep spiritual roots of our own, a desire to serve God wherever and however called, a wisdom to know support roles are as critical as leadership roles, and the understanding God provides us with all of the talents and resources to respond to our Call.
The lessons we learn from James and John remind us to follow when Jesus Calls and to not let things, our perceptions of our skills, or what has been in the past hold us back. Good lessons, but not the whole picture. The lessons from Zebedee help us find ways to follow when our Call leads us to Kingdom build from where we are.
As members of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus brings near, we are a community first and individuals second, we are connected, bound together just as we sing in the hymn “Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Bind us together Lord, Bind us together Lord, Bind us together with love. There is only one God, and there is only one King. There is only one Body and that is why I sing!”
Jesus came to bring salvation to all people, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what kind of life they have led. In Matthew we find him with a healing ministry in a land where the people at their best were seen as second class citizens of Judea. The Greek word for healing reflecting the meaning of “attending to the needs of.” People, particularly those who struggle in some area of their lives, need someone to attend to their needs, to listen and to care. Those people are everywhere, even in our midst.
I believe Zebedee was as much a part of the team called to attend to the needs of others, as were the twelve who joined Jesus teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. His role just didn’t make headlines.
Jesus has called each of you this morning to be fishers of people. To make every part of your lives a part of building up God’s Kingdom. God has called us to serve God’s people through our vocations, through service organizations and schools, through food and clothing ministry, through volunteering and voting, through offering prayer and healing. As Mother Theresa suggested: We are called to “Spread the love of God through our life but to only use words when necessary.’
As the faith community known as the Abundant Harvest, we are answering that Call. We reached out to many near and far over Christmas. We are collecting for the local food pantry and bringing in shoes for those who have none in the Dominican Republic. We work with and pray for one another that we may create a Kingdom culture that launches and supports all of us into the areas of ministry where we are uniquely called. We are listening and watching for God’s direction.
What we believe and what we do are as interconnected as Zebedee’s nets.
As we look at this passage from the perspective of Zebedee this morning, I urge all of us to remember we are all called and are uniquely qualified to answer that Call in ever changing ways throughout our lives. I am grateful to be part of this team and excited about the journey ahead.