One of my students, trained as an attorney, told me of an article she recently read in a journal for Alabama lawyers. It was written by a judge and dealt with the top ten things attorneys should never say to judges. The first is “With all due respect, your honor.” Because it is a prelude to disagreeing or objecting, not respect. The second is “I’m not prepared today because…..” I don’t know what the other 8 are. Two is enough.
If Jesus walked by me while I was casting my nets into the sea and said “Follow me,” I probably would have said, “With all due respect, rabbi, I’m not prepared today to follow you because…”
I like time to mull things over. As a reader, I appreciate that Matthew and Luke give me 4 chapters to get used to the idea, to meet the one who’s going to be calling, know his background, and sense something of what the risks will be. Luke has the dedication and birth of John the Baptist, and Mary and Elizabeth’s house party and Mary’s song and John’s birth and Jesus’ birth, and… and…
Matthew has the genealogy, the birth of Jesus, the visit of the wise men, the escape to Egypt, the massacre of the innocents, and… and…
John’s gospel has the lofty prologue that lays Jesus’ ID on the table. We’re tipped off to his being the Word made flesh before we ever meet him. In John’s gospel, the first two disciples that follow Jesus are disciples of John who follow Jesus before he ever calls them. (1:37) John acts as his publicist (1:36 “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”)
Maybe Matthew, Luke and John have got it right in giving us time to decide to follow or not. Spiritual directors advise people that, when they are making a life altering decision, they take days, even weeks, to consider each potential choice, to prayerfully enter into it, to weigh all the implications and all the ramifications. “Look before you leap.” is a time honored proverb (not from the Bible, but time honored nonetheless). You don’t quit a job without giving notice. You don’t leave your dad holding the bag with the family business and walk away without looking back.
But this is the gospel of Mark, not Luke, Matthew, or John. Mark would argue that our being called by Jesus is a situation that calls for the time honored proverb “He who hesitates is lost.” (Again, not from the Bible, but time honored nonetheless) This is the gospel that seeks to convey the urgency of Jesus’ mission and message. This is the gospel whose favorite word is “Immediately.” He uses the word “straightaway” or “immediately” over 40 times in his 16 chapters. It occurs several times just in the first chapter. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). “Immediately he called them” (Mk 1:20); ” immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught” (Mk 1:21); “and immediately the leprosy left him” (Mk 1:42).
Mark wants us to get on with it. So we shouldn’t be surprised that he takes the remote and fast forwards to the scene he chooses as the starting point of his gospel. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…” He gives me a line or two of description of Jesus (1:7, 8), then it’s baptism, temptation and you’re on… “Follow me.” Here is your cue. Are you going to drop you nets, leave Dad in the boat and follow Jesus?” Or are you going to say “With all due respect, your honor, I’m not prepared today because…..”Why should an attorney never say to a judge “I’m not prepared today because?” I assume because, as far as the judge and his docket is concerned, today is the day. It’s go time and they are to stand and speak as best they can. Now, not tomorrow.
That’s often how life comes at us. Death comes to a loved one and we say “I’m not prepared to deal with death today.” We find out we’re going to be a parent and we may say, “This is wonderful news, but I’m not prepared to be a parent today.” When life calls upon us to change, to risk, our response may be “I’m not prepared to change today.” “I’m not prepared to risk today.” “I’m not prepared …..today.”
When I first started out in ministry, I was an associate pastor at a large church, working with a gifted senior pastor who had a quirky sense of humor. I preached every 4th Sunday. At 10:55 am each Sunday, we would line up in the narthex at the front of the chancel choir to lead the procession into the church. He thought it amusing to look at me expectantly on the first, second, or third weeks of the month, and ask “What is your sermon going to be about this morning?”
One Sunday (it was definitely his week) we were standing there and it was time to go in and he has a distracted air, with a faraway look on his face. I nudged his arm and said “Paul, it’s 10:55. Are you ready?” He sort of snapped to attention, looked at me and said, “No, but let’s go in anyway.” That has become my mantra when I feel stressed, flustered or not quite as well prepared as I would like. “Are you ready?” I ask myself. And I answer “No, but let’s go in anyway.”
Some would like to believe that Simon and Andrew, James and John had heard about Jesus, maybe had heard him teach or seen his healings. But in Mark’s narrative flow, this seems to be the first time they’ve encountered him. They drop their nets and follow.
This is how Jesus comes at us. “Follow me.” he says. He doesn’t ask to see our CV. He doesn’t call our references, ask to see a sample of our work, make us audition, run timed sprints, or submit a personal statement. He just calls and they just followed and maybe we will too. The only reason I can figure for their response in this lean, terse story is that they found his promise compelling. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (1:17) I would never trivialize the job they were doing. People need food. But he was offering them a purpose beyond their current experience and their immediate needs. It caught their imaginations and so their adventure began.
But enough about them. What about you and me? We really don’t need any more preparation. We don’t have to know all that we are getting ourselves into yet. We’ve had enough time to think it over. He’s coming our way now. “With all due respect, your honor, I’m not prepared today,” won’t cut it. All the preparation we need is to be even just a little bit intrigued and excited about the possibility of inviting others to follow Jesus too. That’ll be enough to take the first few steps after him.
“Are you ready?” I asked my senior pastor all those years ago. His answer was one Mark would thoroughly approve of, “No, but let’s go in anyway!”