by Teri Daily
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.* (Matthew 4:12-23)
*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisher-folk,
Before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled their hearts
Brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing –
The marvelous peace of God.
by William Alexander Percy
Now that I’m an adult, I would like to go back and give my father the gift of sleep. He didn’t sleep much when I was young; he was a night owl. When he finally did go to bed, I was often to blame for waking him up soon after. I grew up in a home that had been built in the 1860s, and lying in bed in the quiet of night was like listening to a symphony of creaks, scrapes, and knocks. Not being a very brave child, it didn’t take much noise (either real or imagined) to send me moving with stealth towards my bedroom door. Once I had reached the door, I would glance in both directions before hurling myself as quickly as I could across the hall and into my parents’ bedroom. I would then gather my composure and say as calmly as I could, “I think I heard something.” My father would get out of bed, put on a robe, and do a sweep through the house, ultimately reassuring me that all was well and that I could go back to bed.
My husband Dave has also humored me on occasion, getting up in the middle of the night to check out some noise I may or may not have actually heard. Or to try to convince me that the noise I am sure is the world’s largest rodent running across the attic above our bedroom is, in fact, merely a tree limb scraping the roof. These experiences are precisely why it can be hard at times to trust our hearing. We know our ears can deceive us; we know they can play tricks on us.
Brother James Koester is part of The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community in Boston. He writes of the difficulty in knowing whether what one hears is real or imagined, especially when it comes to hearing the call of God. He suggests that the problem comes from the way in which God calls us:
It always seems to be a whisper. It never seems to be a shout. Or, at least, not for me. For whatever reason, God never seems to shout when trying to get my attention. God always uses his “inside voice” as my mother used to call it: “Jamie,” she would say, “use your inside voice,” whenever I shouted, or spoke too loudly or cried out something. That’s the voice that God always seems to use, at least with me: his “inside voice”. Shouting, and calling, and crying out, and throwing people off their horses is great stuff, but that’s not how I hear God. I hear God in a whisper; in a look; in a turn of the head; in a subtle expression on a face. That’s how I hear God. Not in shouts and cries and loud calls.
That’s usually the way we hear God, too. But things were different for the disciples. They didn’t have to hear only with their heart. Instead, pressure changes in the air made their way from Jesus’ mouth to the disciples’ eardrums, where (through a series of several steps) they were changed into electrical signals and sent to the brain. Simon, Andrew, James, and John actually heard, in this very physical way, Jesus say “Follow me.” Right there, in the flesh. And they were faced with a decision: leave everything and go with Jesus or keep the life they had. There wasn’t the option of questioning if they had heard something. They heard. And what they heard was “Follow me.”
Maybe, in some ways, hearing with their ears made it harder for the early disciples. Because when we, two thousand years later, hear with our heart, it’s very easy to tell ourselves that we’re mistaken, that we’re just imagining things. Even if we do acknowledge that we hear Jesus calling us, it’s easy for us to take that call out of the realm of flesh and blood and make it an abstraction.
In his book Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr talks about how this shift toward abstraction took place – how “following Jesus” became not about what we do physically in our day to day lives, but about what we believe in our heads and do mainly on Sunday. He writes that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, a need arose to agree on what he calls “transcendent truth claims”: Is Jesus both divine and human, was the virgin birth real, will Jesus physically come back to earth one day? Rohr says that, amid these concerns, Christians began to concentrate “on how to worship Jesus as one united empire instead of following Jesus in any practical ways (even though [Jesus] never said ‘worship me’ but often said ‘follow me’).”
I think the early Christians had it right when they called themselves people of “the Way.” A “way” involves one’s whole life. It’s not something you believe; it’s a mode of being. To be a people of the Way, you have to stop clinging to the safety of things you know and, instead, follow Jesus out into the streets among those who need good news – among those who sit in darkness and experience all kinds of suffering and sickness. What we’ve done is to make Christianity about certain beliefs and, in the process, we’ve relegated the “way” to a second-tier characteristic of Christianity. We have made following Jesus an abstraction, something to think about instead of something we actually do.
There’s nothing wrong with exploring our faith through study, or thinking about what we believe, or saying the Nicene Creed. Those things are all critical to our faith. But we can’t do those things accurately or faithfully outside of a life lived following the way of Jesus, outside of the actions that inform and shape our beliefs. That is, in part, why liturgical Christians move in worship and care so very much about the order of service – they know that what we do forms both who we are and what we believe.
Still, it is awfully tempting to live in our heads and not our bodies. It often seems much safer to debate theological claims than to roll up our sleeves, embrace the grittiness of daily life, and wade into the diseases and sicknesses all around us, like Jesus did. It is sometimes easier to try to define Jesus or talk about Jesus or even pray to Jesus than it is to answer the one request he makes of us – which is simply to follow him.
I end this reflection with a very simple suggestion. In the week ahead, listen carefully for the call of Jesus – maybe not in the normal way we hear things, but in the pull on your heart, the desire that springs up in you from time to time, the compassion you have for someone, and the beauty you find around you. Then, when you hear the call of Jesus, don’t analyze that call to death, making it into something that only lives in your head. Instead, leave your nets, get out of the boat, put your hand to the plow without looking back, or, in the language of 12 step programs, get out of your head and “be where your hands are.”
 Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011) page xvi.