Based on Isa. 6:8 & Lk. 5:11
Two learned professors were discussing the great thoughts on wisdom and the meaning of life.
The first professor asked the second, “Henry tells me he is one of your students.”
The second professor replied, “Well, Henry does attend most of my classes, but he is not one of my students.”
Too bad there are so many distant followers, and so few real disciples.1
Calling, vocation, being a true prophet or a faithful disciple—that’s the challenge our passage from Isaiah and our gospel set before us today. We all have a calling or vocation. God has made each one of us in a special way in order that we may serve God and one another.
God gives each one of us a certain job to do in the world. God also provides us with the necessary gifts and resources to do the job. Unfortunately, unlike Isaiah the prophet and Peter, James and John, most people are reluctant to follow God in such a radical way.
Who really wants to be a true prophet like Isaiah? Who wants to go and tell the people what they do not want to hear? We would much sooner tell them what they want to hear! Who really wants to preach God’s word of truth, knowing that likely the majority of people will not listen? Who really wants to tell your very own people that their cities are going to be destroyed and they are going to be dragged off into exile because God is not pleased with them?
Did Isaiah really know what he was getting into when God called him? Probably not entirely—and that was a good thing too! For if he had, likely he would not have said: “Here am I; send me!”
What about those first disciples of Jesus? Is this story of their call not a tad bit too fishy for our cozy and comfortable lives? Especially those last words of verse eleven—even today, they tug at us and hit us like a ton of bricks: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” Everything?! Surely that must be a romantic, hyperbolic statement that our gospel writer made in jest—can this really be true?
At this point in the story, I think a lot of us go deaf and beep out that last verse—or because it “goes against the grain” so much, we tend to soften its message by rationalizing that this was not the first time these three disciples had seen or heard Jesus.
In any case, whatever we do with verse eleven, the fact remains that Jesus calls Peter, James and John into a radically different lifestyle. Jesus calls them into a lifestyle of radical following. Luke tells us the disciples heard and answered Jesus’ call with a resounding YES—just as the prophet Isaiah had centuries earlier. That YES involved leaving everything! The question for us relatively wealthy and materialistic North Americans is: “What does Jesus’ call involve for us today?” Or to put it another more challenging—maybe even threatening—way: “How much are we willing to give up in order to follow where Jesus leads us?”
In our recent history of the Church, Dr. Albert Schweitzer certainly heard Jesus calling him. Albert was an incredibly gifted person. He began as a pastor and wrote several brilliant theological works. These works became important to the theological developments of the twentieth century. He also enjoyed a worldwide reputation as an organist, specializing in the music of J.S. Bach.
Yet, his work branched out even farther. By 1913, he was studying medicine, eventually became a medical doctor and went off to Africa as a medical missionary—where conditions were very tough. He served the people with great love and care by working long hours. He shared in their lifestyle and sufferings—the tragic floods, the jungle heat, the pestilences. There was an acute need for medical facilities and after much hardship; a hospital was completed, which included care for the lepers.
Here is an incredibly gifted human being who could have enjoyed an aristocratic life of coziness and comfort in Europe. He could have been a man of power, prestige and wealth in Europe. Yet, he used his incredible gifts and, indeed, his whole life to hear and answer Jesus’ call: “follow me.”
As we consider God’s call and what that involves for each one of us—these words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer may be instructive for us.
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets to 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.2
I find it no light task to follow my vocation, to put pressure on the Christian Faith to reconcile itself in all sincerity with historical truth. But I have devoted myself to it with joy, because I am certain that truthfulness in all things belongs to the spirit of Jesus.3
May we, like Isaiah, the first disciples of Jesus, and Albert Schweitzer, be able to follow Christ wherever he leads us, regardless of the cost.
1 Brian Cavanaugh, The Sower’s Seeds (Mahwah, NJ & New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 66-67.
2 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.