Part Two: People to Minister With
Working with teenagers is like walking a cat, you can take them outside, you can put a leash on them, but the odds are, they’ll just lay on the ground and play with the leash. Case in point, I decided that it would be bright idea to have a food fight with the youth of Thomaston FUMC. This was my first full-time position in church work, and I did not necessarily anticipate all the contingencies involved.
I set the date for early August, a time that would be garden hose friendly after all the food was flung so youth would not be getting into their family cars covered in muck. I got together the appropriate materials for such an enterprise: cheap bottles of mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickle, relish, cans of soup, tomato juice, ice cream, whipped cream, and then had the odd idea to suggest that students bring some of their own ammunition to the fight. Since I advertised early, one of our students, Hannah, found some leftover concoction in her freezer and set it out on the counter for a month before the event. Something about her doing that should have been a warning to me but I shrugged it off as youthful enthusiasm.
On the day of the event, I had this idea that the youth should divide up into teams and that way I could keep things kind of organized. I told students to put trash bags over their clothes if they wanted to keep some of the mess to a minimum but there were few takers. I tried to line them up but the more I tried to line them up the more it became like herding cats as they began circling the food cart, waiting for me to move out of the way and say go. There was going to be no organization, no teams, no orderly conduct. I finally gave up and said go.
Chaos reigned, madness ensued, and condiments and desserts flew. I cannot say for certain how long it lasted but for that brief moment in time I was witness to true anarchy. The idea of teams was out the window. One kid was holding a ketchup bottle and spinning in circles, covering everyone around him. Hannah took her lovely dish of putridness and simply flung it straight up into the air as hard as she could creating a localized shower of Lord only knows what. In the end, we lost more ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise than the town would have used on the Fourth of July and no one left the field of battle unscathed.
On thing I noticed about the food fight (and subsequent food fights since), is that no one is a follower. Everyone goes their own way hoping to survive as best they can while inflicting as much goop and muck on everyone around them as possible. Looking back, it almost feels like a metaphor for social media in the present but that’s a different sermon for a different time. Don’t get me wrong, this was absolutely one of the most entertaining things I have ever done but it’s one of those things that when you think about it, it’s walking cats with a leash.
When we begin reading in Luke 5, Jesus has already started his ministry. He has started teaching around Galilee (4:14-15), been to the synagogue in Nazareth and declared his calling and mission (4:16-30), healed a man of an unclean spirit (4:31-37) as well as Simon’s mother and casting demons out of several others (4:38-41), before going into Judea to teach and preach (4:42-44). Jesus is following at this point the traditional mode of a prophet: an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer working by the power of the Spirit of God, but one thing is missing: disciples.
In the Old Testament, we read of bands and schools of prophets that learned from the prophetic ministries and teachings of what they considered the three masters: Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha. These bands studied and worshiped together, preaching, teaching, and offering counsel to the people of Israel. There schools in six different cities around Israel and each served the area around it. The model was most likely that they would demonstrate a calling and then learn the ropes from established prophets. These student prophets acted as worshipers, musicians and singers, messengers, and of course, prophets.
This model was something well understood among the teachers of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, the last of which Jesus may have been a member of. This model of discipleship, which bore some similarity to the Greco-Roman tradition of philosophers, was one where a learned rabbi/prophet would take on students who had heard and gravitated towards the teacher and their message.
In our text today, we see the beginnings of this process. Jesus has been teaching and preaching throughout the region and has met with both acceptance and resistance. He is not necessarily welcome among the establishment but not shunned either. He is teaching in synagogue and countryside and the people are responding. On the day from our passage, Jesus has gathered such a crowd that he has to ask some weary fishermen to borrow a boat and move away from the shore a bit, creating a sort of makeshift amphitheater. When the lesson for the crowd is done, Jesus has a lesson for the fishermen.
He tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” After a night of fishing and having caught nothing, Simon is not so sure about this. Sure, Jesus is a great teacher and probably a good craftsman, but he doesn’t know anything about fishing. Despite his reluctance, Simon moves the boat away from shore to the deeper water and lets down the nets. And the fish are there. The same fish that were missing the night before are weighing down the boat and Simon has to call in reinforcements and their boat gets weighed down too. After all this goes down, Simon realizes that he is in the presence of a true man of God, a great prophet who has performed a great miracle. Simon falls to his knees, the other fishermen are amazed, and they are informed of an impending career change, “from now on you will be catching people.”
The entire episode becomes a metaphor for discipleship: they first hear the words and teaching of Jesus. He has taught all over the region and by the time of the great catch of fish Simon and company know Jesus well by his reputation. Second, they experience something miraculous, something only God or a person sent by God could do. They travel from the shallow waters of general knowledge to the deep waters where something truly miraculous lies. Finally, they are presented with the choice: stay in their boats and continuing making a living, probably a good living since they owned their own boats, as fishermen or become disciples of Jesus and learn to make disciples themselves. They choose the later and help change the course of human history.
Jesus could have skipped this episode, could have taken a go it alone attitude but instead chose to train a rag-tag group of day laborers and social outcasts. Why? Multiplication. He took on disciples so they could in turn take on disciples. Community is relational thing and Jesus was aware that one day he would no longer be with he community physically. We make disciples by being disciples and all of that is relational starting with our relationship with God through Jesus and moving outward to those we are discipled by and those we disciple. “Faith is real only in the community of faith.” We best learn and understand our faith and our actions as disciples through a community of those who we can learn from and share with.
When they started, the disciples did not ever have it all together, like I said, rag-tag day laborers and social outcasts. They struggled as disciples from the time of their calling to the formation of the early church to the ends of their lives. But it also wasn’t the chaos of a youth group food fight or the futility of trying to walk a cat on a leash. That said, the disciples did two things: they followed Jesus through the power of the Spirit of God, and they made disciples while they did. Our calling is the same as theirs, the same as every other follower of Jesus through history – be disciples to make disciples. As we become followers of Jesus, we follow in their footsteps, learning to become disciples ourselves, learning that model of following and leading others to follow. Like our spiritual ancestors, we blunder along sometimes between mountain tops, but blunder we will as long as we keep learning more about our faith and teaching what we learn to those around us.
Someone might ask, “Where do I start?” Honestly, I think the best encapsulation of what it means to be a disciple, especially when you are just getting started is the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. I believe that if you start there, learning how to live with and into those principles, you will find the heart of Jesus message and the heart of discipleship. And as you learn, do. As you do, teach. In doing this you are living into one of the final admonitions in the book of Matthew, “go and make disciples.”
Big Point: We are called to be disciples and make disciples.
Arndt, William F., F. Wilbur Gingrich, F. W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church. London: Forgotten Books, 2015.
Brunner, Emil. Our Faith. New York: Scribner and Sons, 1954.
Conzelmann, Hans. The Theology of St. Luke. Translated by Geoffrey Buswell. New York: Harper Row Publishing, 1961.
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy . New York: Washington Square Press / Simon & Schuster, 1961.
Price, Ira M. The Schools of the Sons of the Prophets. 03 1889. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/470146 (accessed 02 06, 2018).
Schelkle, Karl Hermann. Theology of the New Testament: The Rule of God – Church/Eschatology. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1978.
Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. New York: Perennial Classics/HarperCollins, 2001.
 (Price 1889, p.244-249)
 (Durant 1961)p.4-6
 (Tillich 2001, p.135)