This past week the Gospel reading comes to us from John. It is the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples.
Now the stories of Jesus calling the disciples have always been a very fascinating story to me.
You have these guys who are out fishing, because that was their job. They are fisherman. They are learning the family business from their dad. And then this guy comes walking down the beach and says “Come follow me.”
And they do!!!!
Imagine this…you are at work. Doing your job that you get paid to do….and I go walks up and simply says, “Come follow me.”
Would you give up everything, drop what you are doing; QUIT your job….just to follow this person…
Taking that story at face value makes it very difficult to fully comprehend what is really going on here…
To better understand…we have to understand what life was like in year 100 AD….2,000 years ago…
Let’s go back and take a look…
At this time, one of the most important things was education. From a very young age, usually around 5 years old, all Jewish boy would attend school where they would memorize the Torah. You know, NBD…Just have a 5 year old memorize the first FIVE books of the Bible. They would spend around 5 years working on this until they had Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy …all 79,847 words…memorized. This was called Bet Safar or the House of the book.
After they finished Bet Safar they would be judged. They would take only the best of the best from Bet Safar and they would be allowed to continue with their education.
The next level of education was known as bet Talmud or House of learning. In this class they would continue learning the Bible. Now that they had the Torah memorized…now that started to memorize the rest of the Old Testament… the Psalms, all the stories of the prophets, everything. By age 14, these best of the best students would have the whole Old Testament memorized!
It was more than just a word regurgitation too, they had to comprehend and understand each verses meaning and be able to answer a question with a question, while quoting scripture, proving that they understand the questions and know what scripture the question was referring to, and then responding using other scripture to respond to the question showing they knew what scripture was being referenced while not quoting that particular scripture….
I mean…they knew their stuff! Front and back, back and front…all by the age of 14!
So up until now you have just about all Jewish boys go Bet Safar and learn the Torah….only the best of the best continue to Bet Talmud….
Then, the best of the best of Bet Talmud…the best of the best of the best of the best…then continue on to Bet Midrash or your house of study. This meant they would continue their studies by becoming a disciple of a Rabbi.
Just like today’s priests, the rabbi’s of the time would interpret scripture differently. While one may think a certain passage meant one thing another may think it was slightly different. Once they had the Old Testament memorized, they would then continue with their learning from a rabbi. They would try to learn the way in which their rabbi interpreted scripture and responded to different things. Their job was to be like their rabbi. They would follow them everywhere with the goal of being just like the rabbi.
The rabbi would quiz and test each candidate to see if they thought they had what it takes to be their disciple. Many times, the rabbi would tell them to go home and continue to learn their father’s work, because they were not good enough to be their disciple.
But sometimes they would either respond by saying “Lech Acarai” or “Come, follow me.”
The blessing normally given to these disciples was “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” This blessing comes from the fact that these disciples would follow their rabbis anywhere. During this time, they did not have paved roads and sidewalks. Roads were dusty. As the rabbi walked, they would kick up dust and would cover anyone who followed closely behind. Therefore the disciples would be covered in the dust of their rabbi.
Now let’s look at these calling of the disciple’s stories… first we have Simon and Andrew….and they are fishing…
They are not in school, they are not disciples….they are doing their job of being a fisherman.
They did not make it to Bet Midrash….we don’t know if they made it to Bet Talmud either….all we know is that they are not disciples….therefore, they are not the best of the best. They are merely ordinary average joes. They were not good enough. They were rejected. They were not chosen.
And here comes Jesus and he says, “Lech Acharai” “Come, follow me.”
And they do!!!
Because Jesus is a rabbi! Rabbis were the most respected people of the time. The dream job circa 100 AD was to become a disciple so that you may grow up to be rabbi! So when Jesus, a rabbi, calls them to follow him…of course they do!
Jesus does not go to the best of the best of the best and quiz them. He goes to the rejected….the failures….and calls them! He does not search for his disciples in the synagogue but out in the normal everyday world that we live in.
In Matthew 16, Jesus takes his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi. Now, this is not a great place to go if you were Jewish. It is a pagan playground!
Now, this passage can have a few different interpretations. The most common one theme is that when Peter confesses that Jesus is truly the Son of God, Jesus blesses him for this realization. He then claims that “on this rock I will build my church” saying that Peter will be the anchor. Other interpretations say that since Peter is the quota-quote spokesperson for the disciples, that he along with the other apostles are the rock that the church will be built on.
Now remember, these “rocks” that the church will be built on are the ones that did not quite make it as being disciples. They are the average joes.
Rob Bell has another spin on this passage. Bell talks about the location that Jesus is in. Standing on a cliff where at the base of it, all these pagans are worshipping. On the face of the cliff was a split that was called ‘The Gates of Hell” because this was where many believed to be the point at which the spirits would enter and leave the world.
It is while standing on this rock, looking down at these people, that Jesus says…this is the rock…
Bell says that it is not the high powered rabbis of the time that he will build his church on….it is these people…in this place. And nothing not even the Gates of Hell will get in the way because it is commissioned by God!
When Jesus called his disciples, they left everything to follow him because they had faith in him…
But before they followed…Jesus called them…Jesus had faith in them…
Jesus is calling you…
He wants you to be his disciple…
He has faith in you…
May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!