“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
One of my nightmarish memories from grade school, and I have a few, was the selection of teams for the daily kickball game at recess. We all lined up in the shadow of Marshall Memorial School and the two most popular kids would take turns choosing members of their team. In my case, I was always sizing up the “remnants” as the selection process wound down, hoping against hope that there might be one person who was less wanted than me. Tragically, I was the last person chosen more often than I care to remember. They call the person selected last in the NFL draft “Mr. Irrelevant.” That’s how I felt. Alternatively, when someone chose you quickly for their team, you were over the moon with joy!
I bet that is how Peter, Andrew, James and John felt one bright morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when they heard Jesus’ words, the words shared at the beginning of this reflection (depicted in this 6th century mosaic above from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy). I know that is how they felt because the next verse says that they left their nets, their careers and their professional security, right there in the sand and immediately followed Jesus. Don’t miss the most powerful moment in this exchange. Jesus chose these men to be His disciples when, in most cases, it happened the other way around. Young Jewish men of the time who wanted to learn the Torah, the Jewish law, selected a rabbi to guide their study—that’s how a young Saul, later the Apostle Paul, would have come under the tutelage of a rabbi named Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3)
But not this rabbi. Jesus Christ our Lord chooses His disciples. And this is the first important lesson to be learned about what it means to be one of His disciples. He calls us; we don’t pick Him. And this fact, which I would like to unpack in this reflection, has all sorts of incredible implications. First, and so importantly, it puts the emphasis on what He does in our lives and who He is making us to be. What I do as a disciple is never as important as who I am as His disciple. We get this so backward so often. If we did the choosing in this relationship, then we would be tempted to celebrate ourselves over against those who did not make that choice. The whole relationship began, not with some sort of faith on my part that I produced or manufactured, but faith that was a gift from the Lord so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) He did the initiating, not me.
Living as a disciple of Jesus is on the same trajectory. It is not my doing, it is His as His Spirit lives in me and works through me. The problem with this whole “choosing” vocabulary is that we are treading dangerously closely to that old Christian battle ground of predestination versus free will. Really good people, all Jesus lovers, have fought, sometimes in really un-Christian ways, about this doctrinal dilemma. The truth is, an honest search of the Scripture will turn up texts that seem to support both positions. (Romans 8:29 versus 1 Timothy 2:4, for example) Is it possible this is a “both/and” situation rather than an “either/or” scenario? Could these positions actually be opposite sides of the same coin that we can’t truly wrap our little brains around right here and right now in this life?
Look at that fateful encounter by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus chose those four men as His disciples and called them to follow Him. But Peter, Andrew, James and John had to accept the invitation. They were chosen, for sure, and without that choice, there would have been no discipleship. But these four guys had to respond; they had to follow. And they did, instantly. I suspect that the Lord gave them the faith to respond at that moment, but they had to get their feet moving in the right direction. They were participants in the process. They were following Jesus’ lead. Discipleship is a dance; we are partners with a beloved Savior who invites us to join Him in the Kingdom ballroom, who shows us the steps to take, who gives us the power to keep moving across the floor, who provides the music and rhythm to life, and who holds us in His arms the entire time.
I just want to dance with Jesus my whole life, never out of step with Him. That’s what it means to be a disciple, to be one of the chosen. I step on His feet a lot, I’m sure. The dance takes practice. That’s why we need each other and the encouragement we can offer as we all learn together. At the end of the day, what matters most is not how well I dance at any given moment. What matters is that I stay on the floor and keep looking into the eyes and the heart of the One who chose me in the first place.
The fact that we are chosen by Jesus offers our lives incredible value and more worth than we could ever muster through any type of self-actualization strategy. Scottish minister William Barclay said it best. “In any museum we will find quite ordinary things - clothes, a walking stick, a pen, pieces of furniture - which are only of value because they were possessed and used by some great person. It is the ownership which gives them worth. It is so with the Christian. The Christian may be a very ordinary person, but he acquires a new value and dignity and greatness because he belongs to God. The greatness of the Christian lies in the fact that he is God's."
Heavenly Father, thank You that You have chosen to love us and to call us to follow You. Because we belong to You, we have a joy and a fulfillment that cannot be attained in any other way in life. We want to be disciples who passionately partner with You in Your will, Your work and Your waltz. Give us the grace and the power to follow You obediently all of our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
P.S. Check out the multi-season series about the life of Jesus and His disciples called “The Chosen. ”You can download the App for this series on your smart phone or watch episodes at TheChosen.TV. This show offers an entertaining and inspiring perspective on the lives of the men and women who were Jesus’ original Chosen.