Dear Fr. Leo: In the gospels, when Jesus called his apostles, they each just got up and followed him. What about the other responsibilities they had? Isn’t that abandonment? What about their other day to day life accountabilities? – S.
Yes, they did leave everything to follow him and yes, it is abandonment – the very best kind of abandonment.
When I was younger, I was captivated by Peter, James, John and Andrew, who left everything, seemingly on the spur of the moment, to follow Jesus simply because he asked them.
“What faith! What fervor!” I exclaimed.
Then as I grew older and started adulting, I thought to myself, “Self! Normal people don’t just up and leave everything because some stranger says, ‘Follow me.’” We see several places in scripture where Jesus gives the same invitation and the other person does not follow him. Witness the rich, young man in Mark 10:17-31.
There has to be more to the story.
To find our answer, it helps to remember the call of Andrew and Peter in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:35-42). As you recall, after Andrew spent the day with Jesus, he sought out his brother Simon and exclaimed, “We have found the Messiah!” If we keep reading, we see that the next day the scene is repeated with Philip and Nathaniel. In this case, Philip says, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” (Jn 1:45)
What becomes abundantly clear in reading John is that, like everyone else at the time, those who would become the first disciples were primed and ready for his appearance. They were on the lookout, and when they found themselves in his presence, they recognized in him the long-expected Messiah.
They didn’t know what following him would entail, of course, but really they didn’t have to. He was there. He asked them to be his disciples. That was enough for the moment. The rest would take care of itself.
It’s a good lesson for all of us who choose to follow Jesus. Do we recognize in Jesus the fulfillment of all our hopes and deepest longings? Do we choose to follow him daily? If we do, then every other decision we make will flow from that decision. The rest is just details.
The problem is that human beings are naturally averse to the unknown. We like a bit of certainty before we take a leap of faith. If not in what we are getting ourselves into, then at least in the one who is asking us to do it.
This trust in the other is what we call “faith.” This is not something esoteric or complicated. Anyone who has watched a child leap into the swimming pool at his father’s beckoning knows what I am talking about.
The water is deeper than the child’s head. The child knows this. The child also knows that it is only about chest deep on his father. But he knows that since his father is there, he will be safe. So he leaps.
So it was for the first disciples. They recognized in Christ the fulfillment of all of their hopes and desires. The rest was just details.
Is it any different for you and me, who stand with our toes on the edge as Christ beckons us out of the kiddy pool and into the deep end of discipleship?
It is Jesus who is calling us. What could we possibly be afraid of? What could possibly hold us back? What are we clinging to?
In her essay, “The Open Door,” Helen Keller once said something that I greatly admire:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
I’ll take the adventure with Jesus any day. Is there any material thing in this life worth clinging to? Think about it. You never see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it!
Dear Fr. Leo: This is a question I’ve had for a while – the concept of a fiery hell. I just can’t understand how fire can reflect justice. Is it possible the flames represent the intensity of the feelings we have of remorse? – M
Yes, in a way. The loving God does not condemn anyone to hell. The sad reality is that everyone in hell has freely chosen to be there. God does not do violence to us and will not force us to love him. Some choose not to. That truly is the death of the soul.
Got a question about the Church or the Faith? Fr. Leo Walsh, JCL, STD, is your local canon lawyer and theologian. He currently serves in the Archdiocese as Judicial Vicar and Pastor of St. Patrick’s in Anchorage. Email your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org