Friday, November 30, 2012
St Andrew, Apostle
There is something at once impressive and off-putting in Matthew's account of the calling of St. Andrew. As Matthew relates, Andrew, with his brother Simon Peter, were in the midst of their work, casting their nets into the sea, when they received the summons: Come ye after Me, and I will make you to be fishers of men. Andrew's response was absolute and unhesitating: and they immediately leaving their nets followed him. We hear the same of James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, who on hearing Jesus' call, left their nets and father, right there in the boat where they had been working, and followed Him.
This response is impressive because, unlike so much of what we do, whether in our mundane, daily tasks or in response to our life in Jesus Christ, we fumble and fail, we stumble, stall, and delay. We wait for more information and then, when the information is at hand, wonder if the whole thing is worth pursuing in the first place, only, all to often, to find the opportunity has passed us by. To see a man like Andrew give his life so fully and utterly, to show such a right understanding of value that he could, without delay, leave his very livelihood, even while in the very midst of his working, to follow Christ displays a kind of faith and desire we can only dream to possess.
Yet, we might also find this account off-putting. We are worried that this response is just a bit too impulsive, too lacking in the kind of reasonable weighing of goods that marks the rightly prudent man. If the life in faith calls for this kind of immediate response, seemingly without even pausing to consider the truth or value of the call, then we are faced with two equally unhappy alternatives. Either Andrew and the others acted entirely without any god grounds for doing so, in which case the life of faith is certainly irrational and quite likely immoral, or they did have grounds for doing so, in which case they seem to have access to a kind of knowing the rest of us do not. In this latter case, one wonders what kind of obligation we would have to imitate them if their following of Christ demanded an infusion of certitude that is denied the rest of us.
However, we ought to remember that Matthew's is not the only, nor by means the complete account of Andrew's call. When we attend to the witness of John's Gospel, then a fuller picture emerges. There we discover that Andrew had been moved by the preaching of John the Baptist and become one of his disciples. It was in light of what John said of Jesus that Andrew left John to go to the Lord, and to see, by the light of faith, that he was the Messiah. It was then that Andrew, the Protoklete, the "first-called," invited Peter to meet Jesus, to see the man he had come to know as the Messiah, that he too might become one of his disciples. It is only then, when they have become disciples, and yet nonetheless remain engaged in their work as fishermen, that Jesus approaches them along the see and calls them to follow him. That is, above and beyond their discipleship, Jesus has called them to something more, something deeper, something more profound.
Andrew, in other words, does not leave his nets on a whim, or as a stab in the dark. Andrew has been led to Christ step by step. If we still must posit in him the gift of faith from God, it is nonetheless a gift which has worked on him in accord with and by means of his knowledge and insight, rather than by setting them aside in favor or unreasoned impulse. What marks Andrew at every step of the way, then, is not some readiness to ignore his intellect and act blindly, but rather never to settle with the good he has so far received from God. What Andrew has modeled for us is a life ever open to a new and deeper encounter with and following of Jesus Christ: first to heed the friend of the Bridegroom, then to see Jesus as Messiah, then to call others to see the same, and finally, at Jesus' explicit prompting rather than his own, to leave all things to follow him.
We can, all too readily, be initially generous to God's call, initially generous to the new life promised us in the Gospel and then imagine that there will be no more need for radical generosity, no more need for a significant conversion in our life apart from the life-long conversion from sin. In Andrew, we are reminded that God does not desire us to be comfortable in the Gospel. We are to find our rest in no one other than Jesus Christ, and that means that no commitment to a life in Christ, however holy and noble, can we hold as final and absolute should Jesus summon us to an even deeper life with him. We may not all be asked to leave aside our nets, and many of us may remain working on the seashore. Even so, are we ready? Are we ready to heed the call when it comes, and with joy and not regret, to leave all things to follow Jesus our Lord?