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“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.”
-Gospel of Matthew 4:18-22
In my parents’ house is a sign that reads, live in such a way that those who do not know God will come to know God by knowing you.
Sometimes, when I’m with my parents, I just stare at these words. Sitting with these words forces a wave of self-examination that frequently results in anxiety. That's right; these words are terrifying to me. I'm often awakened from my anxiety-ridden state by my mother’s words, “Matthew, are you okay? You look like something is wrong.” Embarrassed, I’ll smile and assure her that I'm fine. In my head, I'm thinking, could people get to know Christ through me… AHHHHH! Poor people…
To cut to the chase, yes, people do get to know Christ through one another. It makes sense. If a person is walking alongside Christ, it follows that we also begin walking alongside Christ when we walk with them. It’s a sobering but hopeful reality. A reality we can step into intentionally or one we can close our eyes to and pretend it doesn’t exist.
If we are to intentionally step into this reality, an understanding of two Latin phrases may foster a supportive outlook. The first is status viatoris. To be a Viator means, to be one on the way. Status, you’ve probably already guessed, indicates a status or condition. Put them together, and you get the condition or state of being on the way.
The second set of words is status comprehensoris; one who has comprehended or arrived.
These two phrases status viatoris and status comprehensoris constitute the two states in which the Christian lives. Although the Christian is one who is on the way, the Christian is dually animated by the prospect of fulfillment or eternal happiness (status comprehensoris). In other words, to be on the way is not merely a designation of place. If you are alive and breathing this very moment, you are on the way. You are a pilgrim en route to a destination. But the Christian is also fueled by the impending reality of eternal happiness. The arrival. Therefore, for the Christian, to be on the way is to be oriented toward that good and to walk toward that which is good habitually.
This is where I’d like to inject our scripture reading into this conversation.
We happen upon the shores of Galilee. Perhaps the sounds and textures are not that different from the sounds and textures that we experience at our amphitheater, the sound of water, the sound of distant voices carrying across the shore, the feel of the warm breeze. Jesus seems just to be going about his day when he sees Peter and Andrew. Almost casually, Jesus calls out, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." I often wonder what was actually happening. Were they bad fishermen? Was Jesus merely saving them from a lifetime of disappointment? It doesn't matter; the scripture says that Peter and Andrew left their nets and began to walk with Jesus. Here's where it gets interesting to me. Without missing a beat, the trio continues walking down the shore, and they happen upon two other brothers, James and John. The scripture explicitly states they are mending their nets, which implies that the nets had needed work from all the fish the nets had held. It doesn’t seem as though Jesus is rescuing these fishermen. Nevertheless, the same invitation is issued, and off they go with Jesus, leaving their nets and wait for it… THEIR FATHER. That’s for another sermon.
The sequence of events is the central aspect I want to consider in this reflection. Jesus invites as he is going about his life. Just a casual stroll along the beach, and BAM! DISCIPLESHIP RECRUITMENT! This open invitation almost seems like a backward understanding of our popular notions of discipleship.
First, we generally don't see discipleship in conjunction with our daily lives. We usually see it as an activity removed from the mundane. Come and follow me… at a predetermined place to discuss a premediated topic. It's not that a plan for discipleship recruitment is invalid; our reliance on a specific structure leaves a lot to be desired. Namely how we normally act. What if our opportunities for discipleship took on this mindset? - A sharing of a walk with a new friend or church member, an invitation to join in with your family for an afternoon outing.
For many of us, this is hard to fathom. Family outings are typically not conducive to our notions of discipling for various reasons, but namely because we often only want to invite others along when we feel we embody what it means to be a ‘good’ Christian. Let's be real; I certainly don't want any of you seeing how I act with my family! If our lives, if our relationships, all of it, if they are not somehow perfect representations of the “Christian life,” we shrink away from inviting others into that journey.
Turn this concern upside down from the perspective of the person looking to enter into this discipleship journey. We may begin to see the same fears reflected in their eyes. I’m not perfect. I’ve failed a lot in my life. These people think they are perfect! I’m too messed up. I’ll be judged!
Literally, in this text, Jesus is discipling as he is going about his daily routine. The literal element of being on the way is that discipleship is something we do while moving through life! In other words, discipling moments ought to be rooted in authentic reflections of our lives actually lived, not just when we are ready for others to see our lives.
A common misunderstanding of this natural element has been one of the significant obstacles, and dare I say tragedies, in how the world perceives Christians and church. I know you’ve heard others say it, “Why would I want to go to church, it’s full of people who think they are perfect, it’s full of hypocrites.” “Church is full of fake people, in constant denial of their faults while they shake a finger at others." Indeed, we've contributed to that perception! Generally, we know we are viators (people on the way, pilgrims en route toward a destination). Yet, we sometimes emphasize and rally around our status as comprehensors (people who carry on as if they've arrived) with a disproportionate emphasis. We rightly perceive ourselves to be pilgrims, but the unintentional consequence is that we often see this life as if we are only passing through relative discomfort and unrest until we reach our perfect heavenly home; it usually means that being on the way is a path that is somehow distinct and removed from the shoreline that actually exists in our time and our place. From that angle, it may render the whole idea of knowing our destination useless. As Christians, we do live with the knowledge of eternal happiness, AMEN! But that means that we are called to strive and orient ourselves toward that hope in every circumstance while we are on the way! Not performatively, but authentically.
Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! Our discipleship process, the disciples that we are churning out, need to act as if they live in the world, a world that is deeply divided by political ideology, a society ripe with economic disparities, a world troubled by racial tensions, a world ravaged by an unprecedented global pandemic. We are called onto that shoreline. To walk with those who are experiencing hardship. To walk alongside those who are different from us, who look different from us, who think differently. To bear witness to the ultimate source of goodness, not as people who know it all, but as people on the way.
Jesus walked along the shore in a Galilee that was ripe with turmoil. He invited his disciples on a walk with him into that world. Jesus created an atmosphere in which those joining him did not need to feel that they knew all the answers, that they were perfect already. That atmosphere was cultivated by the fact that Jesus invited them into his world, with all the mundane experiences, hardships, and uncertainties that he would experience.
Church, people don't want to be disillusioned with fantasy and posturing; they want to be involved and invited into something REAL. And that REAL journey, full of fighting and maneuvering toward what is good, will not always look like sunshine and rainbows! The Christian journey is populated with people. This truth inherently means that it will be messy. We need not shrink from that reality.
What if our most fundamental rule of discipleship revolved around the notion that your life is the primary driver toward discipling? What if you view your life, in all of its joys, concerns, failures, victories, as a real and authentic witness of your striving to walk with Christ habitually? Better yet, what if you were honest with the people who attempted to get to know you about that pursuit? By getting to know you, what if people witnessed that the God of all creation, the alpha and the omega, the ultimate source of everything good, loves, even them, in all of their failures, joys, concerns, and victories? What if your church was a community of viators (all on their way), hopeful of eternal fulfillment, each person with the impulse to orient themselves amid the struggle toward ultimate goodness, and at the very same time, all sympathetic and accepting that the journey is perilous? – All of them understanding the reality that we are called to walk alongside one another, not only when we deem our lives acceptable or other lives acceptable, but especially when we do not.
Live in such a way that those who do not know God will come to know God by knowing you. We are ON THE WAY. Live accordingly. Amen.