Not Ready For Prime Time But Good Enough
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on discipleship. Sunday, January 26, 2014. Focus on how Jesus didn’t call the best and brightest to come follow, but average people like you and me.
The insights for this sermon come from a video talk entitled Dust given by Rob Bell the former pastor of Mars Hill a young progressive evangelical church on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
When Jesus came to pick his disciples he came to the Galilee – a region where the people believed that God had spoken to Moses, one of there greatest leader, and had given him the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, which means the teaching or the law or the way. And as is the case in so many countries where God is the governing principle they centered their lives on these teachings. And it was far more than a mere religion it was also how they structured their economic, political and educational life. The Torah was the foundation around which Israel lived her life in the first century.
So around the age of six most Jewish boys and girls would go to school for the first time to learn the Torah. It would be held in the local synagogue and be taught by the local Torah teacher who was a Rabbi. This first level of education was called Bet Sefer and lasted until the child was around ten. And by the time a child was ten they would have memorized the Torah – that’s every word of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy memorized.
And that’s as far as most kids went in terms of schooling, because by the age of ten most kids were expected to learn the family trade. They were apprenticing in the family business or learning how to manage the family household. But the best of the best would keep going in school. They would continue their education into the next level, which was called Bet Talmud. And in Bet Talmud the best of the best, who were still going on, the ones with the most natural ability would memorize the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures – Genesis through Malachi memorized by the time they were fourteen or fifteen.
Now by the end of Bet Talmud most kids are learning the family business, learning the family trade, apprenticing with their parents. But the best of the best of the best would continue on to the next level of education, which was called Bet Midrash and they’d go to a rabbi and they’d apply to that rabbi to become one of his disciples.
Now when we use the word disciple we often think of someone who is a student, someone who knows what the teacher knows but a disciple was something far deeper than just a student. A disciple doesn’t just want to know what the rabbi knows. The disciple wants to be like the rabbi and wants to learn to do what the rabbi does. Now rabbi’s differed in how they interpreted the Torah. They’d take a verse or a command and one rabbi would say well this is what it means to follow this verse or to do this command by God. And another rabbi might say, no I think it means something slightly different.
And so different rabbis had different sets of interpretations of how you were to live out, understand and interpret the scriptures. Now a rabbi’s set of interpretations was called a rabbi’s yoke. So when you went and applied to become one of that rabbi’s disciples what you wanted to do was to take that rabbi’s yoke upon you so you could learn to know what the rabbi knew in order to do what the rabbi did in order to become like the rabbi.
So you’d go to a rabbi and you’d say, “Rabbi I want to be one of your disciples.” The rabbi would then grill you. The rabbi would ask you questions about Torah, or questions about the prophets or questions about the oral tradition because the rabbi wants to know – can this kid sit in front of me? Can this kid do what I do? Can this kid share my yoke? Does this kid have what it takes?
So the rabbi would fire off all these questions and grill the kid and if the rabbi thought that this kid was good. Yeah this kid loves God, loves the Torah but this kid isn’t the best of the best of the best the rabbi might say to the kid, “You know you obviously love God and understand the Torah, but you don’t have what it takes to become one of my disciples. The rabbi might say to the kid something like, “Go and continue learning your family trade.”
But if the rabbi thinks this kid has got what it takes. I think that this kid can do what I do. The rabbi would say – “Come follow me.” And so you would leave as this 14 or 15-year-old kid your family, your friends, your synagogue and your village and you would go and devote your entire life to being like your rabbi. Learning to do what your rabbi does. This is what it means to be a disciple.
Now all of this has huge implications for how we understand Jesus, because most rabbis would begin their teaching around the age of 30. And in the Bible around the age of 30 we have Jesus walking down the shore along the Sea of Galilee and he comes across Peter and Andrew and they’re fishermen. And Jesus says to them, “Come follow me.”
Well if they’re fishermen and Jesus calls them to come be his disciples then that means that they’re not following another rabbi. And if they’re not following another rabbi then they’re not the best of the best. They didn’t make the cut.
Then the text continues and it says, “That at once they dropped their nets and followed him”, which I’ve always thought a bit strange. It’s a bit odd that they just dropped their nets and left.
But if you understand the story in its original context it makes complete sense, because rabbis were the most honored, respected, revered people anywhere. Only the best of the best of the best got to be rabbis.
And so if a rabbi named Jesus comes down to the water’s edge and says to you, “Come follow me.” What’s he really saying? He’s saying, “You can do what I do. You can be like me.” Well then it makes complete sense to drop your nets and follow him. And then the text continues and it says that he came across James and John and they’re fishing with their father Zebedee.
Now if they’re fishing with their father what are they? They’re apprentices. They’re learning the family trade. And if he calls them to be his disciples that means they’re not following some other rabbi, which means that they aren’t good enough either. They didn’t make the cut. They’re not the best of the best.
And how old are they? – 15, 16 maybe 20? These are not old men. They’re young. Jesus chooses them because his movement is for everyone. It’s for rich and poor, for women and men, for educated and uneducated. In fact what’s one of the insulting things that said about them later on? These guys are like unschooled fishermen. It’s a movement of any bodies and nobodies. Its the J.V. team, the not good enough’s, the not ready for prime time players.
But Jesus calls them to be his disciples, to be like him and this band of nobodies, this ragtag band of brothers – who weren’t the best of the best in their day and age – well not only did they change the way we measure time, they changed the course of human history itself.
So what does that say about us? Well like Peter, James and John we didn’t go and apply to be a disciple of this rabbi. This rabbi chose us. And the amazing thing is that rabbi is none other than God himself who believes in us.
All my life I’ve been taught about believing in God, but I’ve never heard anyone say, God believes in us. God believes that we ordinary, non-descript every day Joes and Janes can be like him, can do what he does. And do you remember what the last thing is that he says to his disciples? He says, “Now you go and make more disciples.” Jesus leaves it in the hands of a bunch of nobodies and any bodies to go and transform the world and they go and do it.
So the next time you feel inadequate or think that you’re not good enough, smart enough or lack the faith necessary to be his disciple. When Jesus calls us to come and follow, what God is saying is: “I believe in you.” Believe in yourselves. Amen