CalledPosted: January 26, 2014
JESUS FOLLOWS JOHN THE BAPTIST
Jesus left Nazareth to spend some time following John the Baptist, listening to his preaching and talking with other people who had become disciples of John. The Gospels indicate that some of the people who were also attracted to John the Baptist were fishermen from the Sea of Galilee. Tradition suggests that Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, Nathanael, Bartholomew were all disciples of John the Baptist.
JOHN’S MESSAGE — REPENT AND SHARE
What did the followers of John the Baptist talk about, when they were camped out in the wilderness to listen to John’s preaching? We have only snippets of John’s message preserved in the Gospels and the writing of the Jewish historian Josephus. John appears to have claimed that the Kingdom of God was coming soon and it would be ushered in by a Messianic figure. He believed the world had become so corrupt, only God could straighten it out, and the way to prepare for the coming of the Messiah was to repent, keep the law, practice traditional piety, be baptized and share with others who had less: “If you have two coats share one with someone who has none. If you have food, share with people who don’t have any.”
ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE TAX MAN
John Dominic Crossan maintains that John’s message was not just about personal piety but creating a more just social order. The fishermen from Galilee would have been attracted to John’s preaching because they were being squeezed hard by the administration of Herod Antipas. In a quest to raise new revenue in order to bribe the Romans to name him as the King of Israel, rather than just the Prince of Galilee and Perea, Herod had built a new capital on the Sea of Galilee, named it after the Emperor Tiberias, and then he was monopolizing the trade in fish from the Lake. Fishermen were taxed for the right to fish in the Lake and were only allowed to sell their catch to government approved processors. The fresh water tilapia, caught in the lake, were preserved by salting, packed in ceramic jars and then shipped all over the Roman Empire. One reason Peter and Andrew from Capernaum and James and John from Bethsaida were in partnership was to try to stay one step ahead of the tax collector, because Capernaum and Bethsaida were in different jurisdictions.
A measure of the desperation of the fishermen is they were willing to leave their boats, walk two or three days and camp out in the wilderness in order to hear John the Baptist. When was the last time you traveled three days, and camped out in the open in order to listen to a preacher? We can guess that when Jesus met these fishermen he got an ear full of their complaints about the government’s encroachment on their fisheries.
REVOLUTION OF LOVE
After Jesus’ vision at the time of his baptism, he sought time to be alone in the wilderness to sort out just what God wanted him to do. When news of John’s arrest reached Jesus he realized the time for his ministry had arrived. He wanted to proclaim the arrival of the Commonwealth of God a community of faith that would transform the world by sharing and caring for one another. So he went and sought out the fishermen of Galilee. They were looking for hope. They were looking for change. They were fertile ground for a revolution. But could they grasp and embrace the revolution of love?
Even today Jesus calls us to embrace the revolution and become part of the community of faith that follows his way of self-sacrificing love. So what is Jesus calling us to do? He calls us to become in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King the beloved community. He calls us to justice, to healing, to feeding, to sharing, to radical inclusion. These were all marks of the ministry of Jesus. In the stories of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes we have the vision of the beloved community, everyone regardless of their class, or their spiritual condition was included. Jesus even included women among his followers and allowed them to sit with the men in the circle of sharing. People who were considered to be outcastes by the traditional standards of the Jewish law were renamed “beloved of God.” Everyone was invited to the table, everyone was invited to bring their sins, their diseases, their wounds so they might be touched with the healing power of love and prayer. Don’t discount the power of inclusion.
THE IRRESISTIBLE REVOLUTION
Claire Woerner suggested I read a book by Shane Claiborne entitled The Irresistible Revolution, about seeking to follow the way of Jesus rather than believing things about him. Later this spring we will pick up this book at the Sharing Table. But allow me to share some of Shane’s insights.
I remember when one of my colleagues said, “Shane I am not a Christian anymore.” I was puzzled, for we had gone to theology classes together, studied scripture, prayed, and worshipped together. But I could see the intensity and sincerity in his eyes as he continued, “I gave up Christianity in order to follow Jesus.” Somehow, I knew what he meant.
COME TO CALCUTTA
Like me maybe you understand where Shane is coming from? So Shane in his quest to follow Jesus called Mother Teresa on the telephone and she said, “Yes, come to Calcutta.” One of Shane’s duties in Calcutta was to work in the leper colony, and he writes of that experience:
. . . I began dressing the man’s wound. He stared at me with such intensity that it felt like he was looking into my soul. Every once in a while he would slowly close his eyes.
When I as finished, he said to me that sacred word I had come to love: “Namaste” — (which means I honor the Holy One who lives in you.) I smiled with tears in my eyes and whispered. “Jesus.” He saw Jesus in me. And I saw Jesus in him. . . .
I knew that I had not just looked into the eyes of some pitiful leper in Calcutta but that I had gazed into the eyes of Jesus, and that he had not seen just some rich, do-gooder white kid from America but that he had seen the image of God in me. That is nuts. What would the world look like if we truly believed, as the apostle Paul figured out, that we no longer live, but only Jesus lives in us?
WE DON’T HAVE TO GO TO CALCUTTA
What would the world look like indeed, if we reached out to the poor and hurting to care for them as if they were Jesus in our midst? We don’t have to go to Calcutta to find people who are poor, homeless or hurting. A simple act of love, when the polar vortex drops down into Alabama and the homeless shelters fill up, what would it take to open our church as a warming center? Or we talk about unemployment, but it is almost impossible to look for a job without a computer. There are public computers at the library, but what if we set up a couple of computers here, opened our building and shared our WiFi? Not long ago I overheard someone saying, maybe we should look for some new members who have some money! But maybe God has blessed us. Maybe God has sent a few of the poor to help save the rich.
A COMMUNITY NOT A DISTRIBUTION CENTER
Again allow me to share an insight from Shane Claiborne: When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed. And Jesus did not set up a program but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven as we forgive our debtors (all economic words.) That reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread like disease – through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love.
CONTAGIOUS WITH THE LOVE OF CHRIST
Can we become a people infected by the love of Jesus? Can we become a community of faith contagious with the love of Christ? That’s what Jesus meant when he announced the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of Heaven begins now when we embrace the way of sharing. The way of self-sacrificing love is the realization of the God in the present moment.
LEARN IN YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE WHO HE IS
Albert Schweitzer who followed Jesus with reckless abandon summarized the way of discipleship: “He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, he came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is.”