People like to be chosen, we like to be picked, to be selected to do something. If a third-grade teacher asks for a volunteer to take a note to the office every child in the class tries to get picked for the job, waving their arms in the air and jumping up and down in their seats. At the park when neighborhood kids want to play baseball they first have to pick teams and each kid there wants to be picked. They may try to act cool but inside they are just as anxious to get picked as those third graders bouncing up and down in their desks. We like to be picked, to be chosen because in some way being selected for a task somehow affirms our worth and uniqueness.
However, as we get older and more mature we discover that the process of choosing becomes more complex, more involved and the process of choosing is never one-sided. When a man asks a woman to marry him he may think he is choosing but it isn’t until she says yes, it isn’t until she also chooses him that they get married. In religious life, a woman or man may choose to join a particular order but before final vows are taken the order has chosen the candidate just as much as the candidate has chosen the order.
Now there are costs involved in making choices. There are consequences that result from choosing and being chosen. When a man and woman marry they give up the choice to date others. They give up the opportunity to have an intimate and permanent relationship with anyone else. When a person enters a religious order they give up the opportunity to marry and have a family, they give up the opportunity to join some other order. The choice to do one thing will always mean letting go of the opportunity to do other things.
The “Chosen/Choosing” Duality
The call of the first disciples in Mark 1:16-20 is a good example of this “chosen/choosing” duality. Jesus walks along the shore and sees Peter, Andrew, James and John and He invites them to follow Him, to become His disciples. Jesus chooses these four fishermen but they don’t automatically become disciples. It is not until they respond to the invitation until they say “yes” to the call that they become disciples of Jesus. In response to that call, in response to being chosen by Jesus Peter could have replied that he had sails to rig and nets to mend. Peter could have replied by saying he had fish to catch, a family to feed and bills to pay. But he didn’t say this; none of the four did. In response to Jesus Peter, Andrew, James and John got up and followed Him.
It is in this following, it is in saying “yes” to Jesus that the four fishermen make their choice and become disciples. The choice to accept Jesus’ call also provides the first hint that there is a cost involved in being a disciple. Andrew and Peter leave their boat and their nets behind – they walk away from their livelihood. And James and John leave their father sitting in the boat with the hired hands. These first disciples, these first of the Apostles, could not both follow Jesus and continue business as usual. The symbolism is clear: the first four disciples are chosen by Jesus and in turn they choose to follow Him, leaving behind their old lives to begin their new life of discipleship.
The story of the call of the first disciples in Marks Gospel is used on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle “B”. The first reading used that Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5, 6). This reading from Jonah shows us that the cost of discipleship, the cost of saying “yes” to God’s call can sometimes be more than we want to give. Perhaps the best-known story from the Book of Jonah is the story of Jonah and the whale. This story ranks right up there with the story of Adam and Eve, the story of Noah’s Ark, the story of the Ten Commandments or the Story of David and Goliath in being familiar to people. Most people who are at least passingly familiar with the Bible know about Jonah being in the belly of the whale for three days but a lot of folks might be hard pressed to explain how and why Jonah ends up in the whale.
The story of Jonah tells us that God calls him to go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh and Jonah doesn’t want to do this. He, like many Israelites, harbors a hatred for the people of Nineveh and would just as soon see God destroy the city. Nineveh is the capital city of Israel’s ancient enemy, the Assyrian empire. God chooses Jonah to do something he really doesn’t want to do so Jonah tries to run away from God. Without getting into all the details – you can read the Book of Jonah in 15 minutes, it is only two pages long – Jonah does eventually respond to God’s call and preaches repentance to the people of Nineveh. However, despite his preaching, Jonah hopes the Ninevites will nonetheless be destroyed by God and he is angry that they actually repent. The point here is that choosing to be a disciple costs something and may require us to do something we would rather not do.
By now you may be wondering what all this talk about choosing and being chosen, all this talk about discipleship has to do with you and me. We have to remember that just like Peter, Andrew, James and John we each have been chosen to be disciples of Jesus Christ. At our Baptism, we are called by name to be followers, to be disciples of Jesus. When we are baptized the priest or deacon doesn’t say, “hey little girl” or “you, little boy”, but rather says “Lukas Alexander” or “Allison Sarah”, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are each called by name at Baptism to be disciples of Jesus Christ but that is not the end of the story. When we are chosen at Baptism we still must – like Peter, Andrew, James and John – say “yes” to being chosen. We must accept the invitation and choose to be disciples. At some point, sooner or later, we have to take ownership of the promises made on our behalf and we have to live the life of discipleship we are committed to at our Baptism.
Like Peter, Andrew, James and John the act of becoming a disciple means we must leave somethings behind; like Jonah being a disciple means we may be called to do something we would rather not do. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t always easy and it is a lifetime proposition. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says to His followers, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) To be a disciple of Jesus means we are called, we respond to that call, we leave some things behind, we do things we are uncomfortable with and would rather not do and we do all this each and every day.
The Good News
The good news, and there is always good news because that is what “Gospel” means, the good news is that God provides us with everything we require in order to be disciples. Our heavenly Father freely gives us the grace and strength we need in order to live lives of discipleship. The Holy Spirit comes to us just as He came to the Apostles and other Disciples of Jesus on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit guides us, teaches us and nurtures us. We gather for Eucharist and we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – the very Jesus Christ whose disciples we are called to be. And God gives us the Church; other people just like us who struggle to be disciples. People who also are chosen by Christ, who respond by saying “yes”, who leave some things behind, who do something they would rather not do and who do it all every day. The Church is a community of disciples and we are there to help each other and support each other, to pray together, laugh together and sometimes cry together.
The only question left to answer then is how soon we must choose to say “yes” to Jesus’ call. In answer to this question I would say that the time to choose a life of discipleship, the time for saying “yes” to Jesus is now. St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians that “time is running out” and “the world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31) or as Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changin’” So the time to choose is now; there is no time to wait and see if a better choice comes along. By His death and resurrection, Christ chose us as His holy people, by His death and resurrection Christ chose us to receive the promise of eternal salvation. Now we must choose Christ, now we must choose a life of discipleship if we want the promise of salvation to become the hoped-for reality of eternal life with God.