Who is in the family? Who belongs to us? Devastation by disaster is prompting some politicians to reconsider the good of government aid. If for a hurricane, Garrison Keillor asked last week, why not for cancer?[i] Should not disaster relief and health care be provided for everyone? Should we not expect each to be costly and worth it since we’re all in this together? Hurricanes and health care are just two of many ways our country is divided about who belongs and how we take care of each other.
In our gospel story this evening, Jesus called those who were following him together, and he named twelve of them apostles. These were set apart to be Jesus’ close friends, to receive his further instruction, to be powerfully sent out teaching and healing on his behalf.
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. While washing their nets lakeside, Jesus had come along with a crowd. He asked for a boat from which to speak. Then Jesus said: “Put out into deep water and let out your nets.” Simon said: We’ve been out all night and caught nothing! Yet if you say so, I’ll try. Suddenly there were so many fish, Simon had to yell for other boats to help. The boats began to sink because of the fish. Seeing this, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said: “Go away, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you’ll be catching people.” Simon, Andrew, James, and John then left everything and followed Jesus.[ii]
Fishermen weren’t part of the crowd, not the type to go after a teacher nor to be chosen by a teacher. Jesus saw them as they were, as people, equal in humanity and ability and need. Jesus caught their attention with respect and an abundance of fish.
Similarly, Jesus had come up to Matthew, a tax collector, at his tax booth and called him. Tax collectors were traitors, working for the Roman empire who oppressed the Jewish people. They were despised for taking on behalf of Rome and also personally pocketing a portion.
Jesus had also called Simon, who was known as the Zealot. Zealots were a group of Jews who resisted Roman occupation often using violence. Of anyone, they most hated tax collectors. That Matthew and Simon were both called is amazing. Fishermen would not be in teacher’s inner circle of students. Neither would a tax collector and zealot let alone in the same group. This list should make us uncomfortable. We often want to stay with people like ourselves and exclude others. We exclude saying others are explicitly or implicitly inferior.
A little after calling the fishermen, Jesus went to a banquet at the house of tax collector. Upset religious leaders asked: Why eat with sinners? Jesus answered: “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, rather those who are sick. I’ve come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”[iii] Jesus calls those who acknowledge their own need. Simon Peter fell at Jesus feet saying: Go away for I’m a sinner. Jesus said: Don’t be afraid; now you’ll be catching people.
After naming the twelve, Jesus, a crowd disciples and great multitude from all over gather. They came to hear Jesus and to be healed. Everyone was trying to touch him for power came out of him and all were healed. We all come to Jesus because we need Jesus. We may not have the language. We may not know it yet, but we are drawn out of need. Why are we here tonight? To be fed. To be healed. We need Jesus. We still need Jesus.
Our need can still often be seen in how we treat our neighbors. Jesus went to Samaria, right next door or rather right in between, the very near spot of a mixed race group the Jews hated. Everyone awkwardly around Samaria. Jesus chose to go through Samaria and share long conversation and water and welcome with a woman at a well.[iv]
Jesus creates a home with all the neighbors whom we exclude, those we awkwardly walk around and look down upon. Jesus tells stories showing them good, as the hero who saves one beaten on the side of road. Jesus says: Go and do likewise. Be like the good one, the Samaritan.[v]
Jesus starts with fishermen and tax collectors and zealots. Jesus calls people who know their need, who are sick and lost. We are one big family. We belong not because of our ability, agility, or pedigree but because of our humanity, our vulnerability, our need.
Like our interns and local students, you may be relocating, meeting neighbors, joining a new community. Like us brothers you may be with the some of the same people year after year. Each of us should consider: What are your walls? Whom do you treat differently?
We must speak up for justice in society, all the more today. Yet I find my own sickness more apparent as I daily choose to love my brothers and those near me. Though I speak of inclusion, I find myself judging and varying my welcome. We are not immune. We keep needing correction.
At a church leadership conference, a speaker animated the gathering by saying that to move forward, an organization or church needs to kick one person off the bus. The speaker said we all know the type, the problematic person who keeps getting in the way. Kick that one off the bus. There was a buzz around the dinner tables that night as people spoke about how much better life would be with certain folk out of the way.
At the plenary the next morning, Margaret Wheatley got up and said: You need everyone who is on your bus. Each one has a gift the group needs. We survive all together. As a leader, communicate and facilitate radical inclusion and belonging.
Those good Christian leaders had buzzed with desire to kick problematic people out. Like them, we need humbling reminders that Jesus calls everyone. We Brothers say the person who most gets under your skin in community has a special role to play. That one is your teacher. Often what annoys us in another relates to something in ourselves. Uncomfortably, he or she is whom you especially need on the bus.
We all belong in one large, messy family of God. We all belong on the bus. Each experiences loss and disasters. Each gets sick. Jesus feeds us and heals us. Like the twelve, we’re learning to follow Jesus, feeding and tending everyone.
[ii] Luke 5:1-11
[iii] Luke 5:27-32
[iv] John 4:1-42
[v] Luke 10:25-37
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