“At The Round Table”
January 22. 2023
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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.
Living in the cold, bold north of the USA this winter has provided several significant snowstorms. For snow sports enthusiasts, this has been the best season in years. For those who have to work through the storms, this has been the toughest winter in recent memory.
I like a good snowstorm when I have nowhere to go. There is a subtle goodness when the power of nature makes us stop, or at least slow down. On those days, media outlets make public service announcements, telling us about cancelled events and reminding us to stay home. If conditions become severe enough, those announcements include messages that only “essential personnel” should report for work. This phrase sends some people out into the storm to maneuver hazardous roads, while others stay home to watch Jeopardy or binge Netflix shows.
In a snowstorm essential personnel plow and salt roads, fix malfunctioning furnaces and restore electrical service. Essential employees provide fire and police protection. EMS and hospital workers are essential personnel. Essential personnel serve everyone in the community.
In the bible reading Jesus is enlisting essential personnel to serve with him in spreading “the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” In this story, Jesus approaches some fishermen and calls them to follow. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Simple as that!
No resume required, no interview, no background check, no experience required. Jesus simply said, “Follow me.”
Those who jumped when Jesus called never asked a question. Seems foolhardy to me. They did not ask about salary or vacation time. They simply followed and became essential personnel. Without them we would have not come to know Jesus and his mission.
Throughout the story of Jesus, he calls people in ways which seem to me to be indiscriminate. I would not have been as gracious. From the rich and powerful, to the destitute and questionable, Jesus called people to follow. One day at a village well, Jesus spoke to a woman who had been married five times and was living with another man. Instead of condemning her, Jesus said, “Here have a sip of this living water.” She followed. The biblical story includes so many accounts of Jesus’ expansive and unquestionable ways of calling people to follow and become essential personnel.
Over the years I have had the good pleasure to visits many places in the world. The opportunity to live, eat, worship and work with people of other traditions and customs has been enriching and educational. It has broadened my understanding of essential personnel.
In both Europe and Asia, it has been my experience in restaurants to be seated with people I did not know. They were not in my dinner party. They were strangers. The first time this happened, I was seated at a large, round table in a tiny, family run restaurant in a small town in Germany. When we were seated at this big round table, it seemed strange to be given a table for 8. We were not told others might be added to the circle. Later, I was surprised when the hostess brought others to be seated with us. We were not asked permission. There was no apology. What I quickly learned is that this was the custom in the culture. It jarred out of my American mind-set and comfort zone.
Seated at a round table with strangers it is difficult to ignore them as you see everyone and they see you! Either you get over your discomfort or you fail to enjoy the dining experience. At a round table, no one has a better seat than another and there is good in that because it is unlikely you will remain strangers. In this experience, after dealing with a language barrier, we began to get to know each other.
Then something amazing happened. Two hours flew by as we learned about each other, laughed together, shared stories of our culture and found common threads which tied us together in the family of humanity. Seated at the round table as foreigners from different nations, we saw ourselves in each other. No one was more important than the other. We were equals as Germans and Americans — brothers and sister of the global nation.
When we follow Jesus, it is a call to be part of the family of God, with the realization that all are worthy and considered essential by Jesus. “Follow me.” It is a gift of God to you and a call to love as Jesus loved, to work together, and to serve with mercy as Jesus embraced and served all.