By Commissioner Peter H. Chang –
“Follow me!” Just like that. If that’s the way to live, then Socrates was wrong; it is not the unexamined but the uncommitted life that finally is not worth living. Equally wrong is Descartes: “I think, therefore I am”? Nonsense: “I love, therefore I am”!
“Follow me!” Jesus called these words “as he walked by the sea of Galilee.” Galilee is very important for it gives life to the entire region. Thirteen miles long from north to south, eight miles across, it is surrounded by rounded hills and rugged mountains which, as one romantic observer notes, “rise and roll backward and upward to where Mt. Hermon hangs the picture against the blue vault of heaven.” In Jesus’ day there were nine populous cities along the shore. The road joining them also led northeast to Damascus and southwest to Egypt. Josephus, historian of the Jews, once counted 330 fishing boats on the water. Fish, not meat, was the staple diet of families in Tiberias and Bethsaida, a town whose name literally means “house of fish.” The fish were caught in two ways: either by drag or trawling nets or by casting nets. The latter were circular, up to nine feet across. Around the circumference of the nets were pellets of lead and a draw rope so that the fish could be hauled into a boat or onto shore.
This, then, is the picture; and on the day in question, perhaps before the sun had really gone to work, we can imagine Peter and his brother Andrew standing in the water, tunics tucked under their girdles, casting their nets with all the skill of cowboys tossing lassoes. Passing by, Jesus says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Now, it is entirely possible that Peter and Andrew, as well as James and John, had heard Jesus before. In fact, in the Gospel of John it is recorded that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist when he first met Jesus. So the decision to follow may not have been totally impulsive. Moreover, we can’t overlook that sense of need and expectation, that feeling inside of so many of us that says, “There must be something more”–the feeling that always is, as it were, the passport to Jesus’ presence. I suspect that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were not the docile, obedient citizens we sometimes like to imagine. These four Palestinian fishermen had longings that not even bulging fishing nets could satisfy. A livelihood, after all, is not a life. So they may have craved wider seas: their combustible hearts may have been awaiting the flame Jesus offered them as He passed by on the shore. Maybe Jesus’ eagerness sparked their youth; maybe His tenderness kindled their love, His authority their loyalty. But whatever their reasons [or lack of reason, for love doesn’t require any] their decision to follow Jesus represents what has come to be known as “the leap of faith.” As the case of these four fishermen demonstrates, the leap of faith is a leap of action rather than a leap of thought.
Faith is anti-clever, if we mean by cleverness that attitude which vaunts its superiority over the unlearned. But there is nothing anti-intellectual in the leap of faith, for it is not a decision to believe without proof, but rather a decision to trust without reservation. Faith is no substitute for thinking: on the contrary, it is what makes good thinking possible. Faith gives us much more to think about. Certainly Peter and Andrew and James and John, in deciding to follow Jesus, received much more to think about than had they stayed at home. And so it is with all of us: if we give our lives to Christ, if we leave familiar territory and take the leap of faith, what we receive in return fills our minds altogether as much as it fills our hearts.
The leap of faith, despite what some think, is not a grim decision. Jesus first visits us human beings in our joy–at a wedding feast in Cana. And whether or not you believe he turned the water into wine, you do have to admit that he comes down firmly on the side of joy. Picture Peter and Andrew, James and John, following Christ on his journey of boundless mercy. It would be hard not to believe that they learned not only to love more deeply and see more clearly, but also to live more fully and laugh more easily. In my observation and personal experience, there is less suffering under Christ’s yoke, once you accept it [and I admit that’s a big “once”] than there is under yokes of our own making: yokes of anxiety, of fear; yokes of prejudice, of hatred; yokes of decadence, of impenitence.
Not that discipleship is not costly–we know it certainly is–but it is never a solitary suffering; it is never a suffering without Jesus, never without grace. Think on these sentences of Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, sentences to which serious Christians can return with profit time and time again: “Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it forgives the sinner. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his son too dear a price to pay for our life.”
As we welcome into our ranks the new lieutenants of the Messengers of the Truth Session who have determined to follow Him, may many more be greatly urged to respond positively to the call of our Lord Jesus: “Follow me.”