Saturday, 22 January 2011

Calling the disciples

So let’s just glean some information from the reading we have heard. We learn of the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin and also the one who had baptised him. It seems likely that Jesus has been part of John’s group, but on his arrest the disciples scatter and the ministry there at the Jordan ends. So Jesus leaves John the Baptist’s group, and remember from last week that the group included Andrew and Simon Peter and possibly the apostle John.

The next thing we find is that Jesus then took up residence in Capernaum near the sea. There is no explanation at all given for this. I guess I would surmise that Jesus needed to go and think. John had been arrested, what did that mean? Was Jesus to take over the ministry? Would it be a different form? Is now the time? What would the implications be?

John the Baptist was a holy man – following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha – meeting with God in dreams, visions and altered states of consciousness. Jesus had followed in this way, learning the ropes, perhaps. I think of Holy people as those who are capable of embodying the values that they espouse.

John had been the rabbi, training his disciples and now he was gone, so Jesus becomes the rabbi, and the first thing a rabbi does is call his disciples. So he finds Simon Peter and Andrew. Fishing was done overnight or early in the morning and then the rest of the day was dedicated to mending the nets, and that is what the brothers were doing when they were called. ‘Follow me’, Jesus says, and they do. Then the same with James and John, sons of Zebedee.

We have thought before about what a privilege it was to be a disciple of a rabbi. In most cases only the best of the best of the best became disciples – those who has studied the scriptures and learned them off by heart – those who could answer questions on the Law and the Prophets, they were the only ones who would take the Yoke of their Rabbi’s teachings. Hence, when Jesus called them, perhaps it is no surprise that they were quick to respond, they were being told that they were worthy, that they were chosen, that to Jesus they were good enough.

It reminds me of that old Chinese Proverb – “He who thinks he is a leader and has no followers is actually only going for a walk”.

I would like to consider a few aspects of Jesus’s leadership that I think were brilliant and I would like to emulate, and perhaps all of us can emulate them.

The first is embodying his values, which I have already spoken about. Another who did this was Gandhi – amazing things can be achieved if we completely embody the change we would like to see. It has to be authentic - it has to go through us - no one will be fooled by a mask. We must never tire - never slump in our standards, never get negative and unfocused - always challenge anything that erodes the vision. When people give us a negative and hopeless rhetoric we must not ignore it, but reply, 'Ah, it is tempting to feel like that, but there is a better way.....'

The second is Listening; I am convinced that Jesus listened very deeply. I was reminded again of the three levels of listening recently. It really is the most important skill. If we feel heard then it is so important, and so unusual. I have turned over a new leaf, again, to listen at level 3 as often as I can. So here they are:

Level 1 or ‘Internal listening’
As the listener your focus in on yourself and your own thoughts rather than the speaker. As the speaker is talking you interpret what you hear in terms of what it means to you. This is normal everyday conversation where it is natural as the listener to gather information to help you form opinions and make decisions. You may feel that you appear to be listening, but in fact your thoughts have wandered off.

Level 2 or ‘Listening to understand’
As a listener operating at level 2 you are focusing totally on the speaker, listening to their words, tone of voice and body language and are not distracted by your own thoughts and feelings. You can summarise back to the person in their own type of language what they have said, and be completely attentive. This is a very high degree of listening.

Level 3 or ‘Global Listening’
This involves the listener focusing on the speaker and picking up more than what is being said. You are aware of what is going on in your own emotions - you will be empathising and so your own feelings will mirror those of the person you are listening to. You can gauge their energy and their emotions as well as picking up what they are not saying. You will understand what they are thinking and feeling, and trusting your own senses can be extremely responsive to the needs of the person you are listening to, knowing what question to ask next.

The third is Empowering – Jesus taught his disciples what to do and what he expected, and then when they were ready he sent them off to do likewise and report back, so when he was gone the movement continued – he taught them to make disciples who make disciples.

There is a saying ‘May you be covered in the Dust of your Rabbi’.. this was because the disciples walked behind their rabbi and they got caked in whatever the rabbi had stepped in. It was a sandy, dusty place and they walked close enough to get covered in the dust of their rabbi. This is a metaphor for us – may we walk so closely to Jesus that we gat covered in his dust. But what does that mean for us today?

What is the challenge for us? Jesus says ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’. Do we want to be part of this? I am guessing the answer to this is yes because we are all here – we want to be part of bringing God’s love and God’s justice to this world. Jesus says we need to repent – but what does this mean – what can we do?

Well I guess there are a few things I really want to repent of:

- The first is that feeling that I’m not really good enough.. Jesus has called us all. Like the first disciples, we may think there are others better than us… this is utterly irrelevant – Jesus called us, not the other way around. Jesus has faith in us, do we have any faith in ourselves?

- The second is the desire to give up, to compromise, to cooperate with all those who say it is all too hard. We are here to change the world, with the help of the Holy Spirit and following the model of Jesus. Let’s not compromise our standards or our beliefs, let us challenge ourselves and others, and always seek the higher way. I don’t mean judge people, I don’t mean spread guilt and shame.. I mean spread love, spread encouragement, I mean treat ourselves and others with respect and dignity.

- The third is I need to listen more, listen to people more deeply and hear what people are actually saying, because the people who listen well are those who have a chance of hearing God and hearing others, and in doing so those who listen might change the world.

Let us together Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.

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