St. Andrew the Apostle
In the Eastern Church, St. Andrew is known by the title Protokletos: St. Andrew, the First-Called.
In this first week of Advent, the first week of the liturgical year, today’s feast provides a simple but profound opportunity to return to first principles.
In a contemplative spirit, we can pause to reconsider some fundamental questions about what it means to be called by Jesus, and what it means to be sent.
St. Andrew the Apostle
Today has been a day full of celebrations in Scotland, because today is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland. From all the flagpoles has been flying the ‘saltire’, the cross of St. Andrew which is shaped like an X, signifying how, at his own request, Andrew was crucified, deeming himself unworthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross as Jesus. Andrew has always been a very popular saint, and is patron of many countries, as well as Scotland, including Russia and Greece. Not surprisingly he is hugely venerated in the Orthodox Church, where he is called the ‘protokletos’, or ‘first called’, for in John’s Gospel he is the first disciple to be called by Jesus. The Orthodox also regard him as being the first Patriarch of Constantinople.
That all seems so distant from that simple and very beautiful story in our Gospel today from Matthew, where Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew his brother who are casting nets into the sea – ‘for they were fishermen.’ And Jesus says to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ I have always loved the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, and when I first visited the Holy Land one of my most moving experiences was of standing quietly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking out over the lake, and imagining Jesus walking up to me and saying to me, ‘Come, follow me.’
But I have also been intrigued by that other story which John tells, about Jesus calling Andrew. In John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, we are told that John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, as Jesus was walking by. One of these two disciples was Andrew. As Jesus walks by John the Baptist says, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’ So, Andrew and the other disciple of John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following him and says, ‘What are you looking for? They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ And he said to them, ‘Come and See’.
So, we have this story in John about the calling of Andrew, the ‘first called’, and then we have this other story of Andrew’s call by the Sea of Galilee, which took place sometime later. We know it was later because Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had by now been arrested. So, what do we make of these two apparently different stories about the call of Andrew: the earlier one that took place not far from Jerusalem, where John was baptizing, and then the later one in Galilee? What I think it tells us is that the call of Andrew came in stages. It took time. And this certainly fits my own experience of coming to faith.
When Andrew first sees Jesus and hears his teacher John the Baptist describe him as the Lamb of God, he longs to know more and starts to follow this intriguing figure. Jesus turns and looks at him. But he doesn’t say, ‘Follow me.’ At this stage he simply says, ‘Come and See’. Come and spend some time with me. Let’s talk! Andrew stayed with him all day. We can imagine him sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, asking questions. Perhaps by the time Andrew left, he had already decided he wanted to follow Jesus, because he immediately went off to tell his brother Simon what had happened. ‘We’ve found the Messiah! Come and see for yourself.’ Perhaps they both came to faith that day. But it was only later, as they worked their trade on the lakeside in Galilee that they made the decisive step of leaving all and actually following Jesus. For now, Jesus was starting his ministry, and he needed them now. Now, ‘Come, follow me.’ Now was the moment once and for all, to throw in their lot with Jesus. So, they left their nets behind and followed him.
I wonder if this is familiar to you in your experience of coming to faith? Perhaps you too came to faith in stages, perhaps sometimes reluctantly. Perhaps you are, even now, facing the challenge once and for all, to throw in your lot with Jesus. And what would that mean, for you? For Andrew and Simon, it meant leaving their nets, their homes, their families, leavingall behind. For you, for me, we may not be called to leave our families and homes and work behind in the same way. But to follow Jesus we must leave our ‘world’ behind, and enter a new world. To enter this new world, which is the Kingdom, we have to radically change direction. To be a follower of Jesus is to turn around and in the words of Colossians, to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’ If we choose to follow Jesus each of us will be challenged to completely change direction and to ‘leave our nets behind’. That will mean something different for each one of us. And what I have discovered, after more than twenty years in the monastic life, is that Jesus never stops calling us to follow him. Every morning, at the beginning of every new day, there is this gracious invitation to say ‘yes’, to leave all and ‘Come follow me.’
Today we give thanks to God for St Andrew. We pray that like him we may have grace to say ‘Yes’ every day to the call to follow Jesus. We pray that each day we may lift our eyes ‘to things that are above’, to see the glory which awaits us, and which calls us ever on.