Ordinary People Called to Do Extraordinary Things: The Contemporary Story

friends will be friendsYou might want to read Ordinary People Called to Do Extraordinary Things: The Backstory first.

We all have a calling. Often it’s in reference to a particular vocation, like the ministry. But I like to think of it more as our purpose in who we are. It’s not so much about a job or profession, but more about who we are and what we do as a result of who we are. It’s being our ordinary selves in our ordinary lives, but we do extraordinary things as a result of the call of our faith.

Now let’s see what happened when Jesus called his people.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. ~ Matthew 4:18-23

Those who pay attention to details will notice that this story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John is very different than what we say in Come and See: Invite. The place is different – north in Galilee, not across the Jordan in Judea. The timing is different – John the Baptizer has been arrested by Herod and transported to Galilee, not active in ministry around the Jordan river. How the brothers are called is different – Jesus is walking along the shoreline, sees the brothers together, calls to them, and they immediately follow Jesus. Andrew doesn’t drag his brother Simon to Jesus.

We can make all sorts of conjectures about the differences, but it’s much more useful to look at this story within the context of the bigger picture. One thing that really stands out to me is the fact that Simon, Peter, James, and John left their nets and immediately followed Jesus. Because we know the outcome of the whole story after the fact – their dullness, resistance, contradiction of Jesus’ teaching, and their denial and desertion of him once he was arrested – we know that these men were not sensitive to the voice of God or have any special level of faith. They were very ordinary that way.

Then we remember where and when they lived. Galilee of the Gentiles. Land of deep darkness. Lands ravaged by outside forces. People treated as worthless. Jesus is declaring the kingdom of God drawing near here, right here, light in the darkness. Suddenly, his message sounds very appealing and they decide now is their time to act. They have hope that maybe something can be done. The ordinary seeing a glimpse of the extraordinary. That’s why Christianity, although declining in the U.S. and Europe, is growing in Africa and Asia.

The other thing that really stands out to me is Jesus’ appeal to make them fishers of people. Their call was to bring people into and build relationships. The quality of their relationships (unconditional love and acceptance), the people with whom they were in relationship (everyone), and why (just because) is what was extraordinary. Every encounter Jesus lived and every story Jesus told exemplified this shift in whom and how his followers were now to relate with all the people in their lives. Ordinary people in their ordinary lives called to extraordinary things.
The contemporary story is not much different than the backstory. There are people in our lives who need good news. We all know people who are miserable in the jobs, but thankful to have a job. We all know people who are secretly bearing burdens: illness, financial worries, a family member in prison, being bullied, addiction, undocumented, and every sort of secret shame they want no one else to know. We all know people who are isolated or lonely. Ordinary people with ordinary problems.
The contemporary call Jesus issues to us is the same call he issues to his people. We’re called to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us. We’re called to be in those relationships the same way Jesus was in relationship with his disciples: bearing each other’s burdens; caring for each other, especially the vulnerable; holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope and promise of God’s abundant grace. Sometimes that call – to be in Christ-shaped relationship with others – will take us far from home and sometimes it will take shape in and among the persons right around us. Extraordinary because it completely overturns operating in the ordinary, fearful, alienating way so prevalent in our culture.
That’s our call: Ordinary people in their ordinary lives called to do extraordinary things. Amen.

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