January 15, 2012
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
“David Aubrey Davis” my mother would shout out the back door, “you get in here this instant.” Just as any child, I knew to drop everything and go, immediately. The boss walks briskly passed all the carols of the outer offices heading to her own with some report or memo flopping in her hand. “Everyone, in my office, now!” No one says a word, phones are hung up, screens left as is, chairs roll back. The staff goes, immediately. The guys were all sitting at the bar watching the game. One of them, a soon to be first time father, held on to his phone the whole time so as not to miss a ring, a buzz, a vibration, anything that might be from his wife. He held on to the phone, that is, until he jumped up, left the phone, and ran out the door with his keys sounding like chimes. Left there in his wake, the friends looked at the phone that was still lit up. The text said. “I think my water just broke.” The man left immediately.
Immediately. It would seem there’s not much room for interpretation when it comes to “immediately.” You probably already know that the gospels are full of “immediately”, especially Mark’s gospel. When it comes to “immediately”, Mark wins hands down in terms of word usage, word count compared to gospel size. The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. The man stood up and immediately took up the mat. When Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. Immediately the girl got up and walked. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe. Go to the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt. Immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve arrived. Those are just a few of them. “Immediately. Immediately. Immediately.”
So, when Jesus said to Simon and Andrew “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”, of course it was immediately that they left their nets and followed him. And when Jesus saw James and John mending nets, of course, he immediately called them and they left Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Jesus, the call of the disciples, and all the “immediately”. It’s a bit over done in Mark, actually. Immediately. Sort of like the young teen who says the word “like” all the time, or that friend of yours who fell in love with the term “seriously,” or the rather annoying colleague who overuses, misuses, and abuses the word “literally”. Maybe it’s all, all that “immediately”, maybe it’s just Mark’s vocabulary crutch of choice. Yeah, well, uhh, you know, like, seriously, literally, immediately, they left their nets and followed him. Immediate discipleship….it must be more than that.
Various bible translations try to mix it up a bit: immediately, right way, at once, at that very moment. The King James seems to prefer “straightway”; “and straightway they forsook their nets and followed him.” The Greek word used over and over again doesn’t offer much variation here. It means “immediately”. One paraphraser tries to add a bit of color: “they didn’t ask questions, they dropped their nets.” There’s just not much to do with “immediately”. It is what it is. Simon, Andrew immediately left their nets and followed. Jesus immediately called James and John and they left their father right there in the boat and followed. I’m working at it here, this “immediately” thing, because I’m trying to figure out what on earth it has to do with you and me and our discipleship; that those first four left immediately and followed. I’m working at it because the whole lickety split, in a twinkling of eye, leave it all behind and go part of the call of the disciples seems a bit far removed from my life, and I would guess, yours.
The range of typical interpretation when it comes to the call of the disciples happening like this (snap) is fairly narrow. The “drop everything and go” response is so beyond the imagination that one can do little but point to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit was at work in the leper’s healing, the lame walking, the dying daughter waking (all of them immediately), it was nothing short of the Holy Spirit grabbing those men out of that boat. The Holy Spirit grabbing them is the same Spirit moving within us. Or, the urgency displayed in the response of the disciples actually points to the compelling message of the gospel. “Repent and believe in the good news” has a here and now, no time like the present quality to it for each and every life. Therefore the drop, ready, and roll response points not to the disciples but to the power of the gospel itself. Or, the lack of any deliberation or discernment among the four serves to emphasize the call of Christ himself. Nothing can be done to earn or figure out or unpack the grace filled, unilateral, salvation gifting call of Christ in our lives. Even our yes is miniscule when compared to his call. The Divine work of the Holy Spirit, immediately. The timeless urgency of the gospel, immediately. The first touch of the prevenient grace of Christ, immediately.
It’s important to acknowledge that “immediately” certainly carries no connation of completely, or that the disciples right then and there reached perfection in following. The gospel reader need only keep reading in order to realize they might have dropped everything but they didn’t get everything in terms of the teaching of Jesus, the inevitably of his death, the defiant and prophetic hope that pointed to his resurrection. Some suggest that the bible never really says that they left completely; their family, their work, their livelihoods. Peter’s house is mentioned later, so he went home again. In John’s Gospel, after the crucifixion, they all went back to fishing anyway. It’s sort of a discipleship as a gap year approach; immediately meaning “for now” not forever at least when it came to “no fishing”.
I’m just not convinced that immediate discipleship is about a span of time. The tools of my trade aren’t helping me here (biblical language, gospel comparisons, traditional interpretations) but I think the “immediatelies” that describe the call of the disciples must imply something other more than right away, and at once, and at that very moment. In order for the “immediatelies” to be relevant, meaningful to our discipleship, there’s got to be something more qualitative about that moment, not just quantitative as in how quickly they jumped.
Consider a couple that’s been together for 30, 40, 50 years. When asked if it was “love at first sight” one of them sort of chuckles and says “No, but somewhere deep down I must have known”. And the other one says, “It seems like just yesterday anyway. First sight. Just this morning. It’s all the same.” And they look at each as if for the first time. It wasn’t love at first sight, it was “immediately”.
Dick Gilbert’s memorial service was held in here a few weeks ago. At the service, his son Bryan entitled his eulogy “How My Father Taught me To Cuss.” It was really about how Dick passed on to his children a dogged determination to finish a task and not let mistakes or setbacks get in the way. Dick carved birds and could be heard cussing from his bench but he never gave up. He passed that skill of carving on to Bryan, and the cussing, and according to Bryan, it was a metaphor for working hard, living each day with a depth of persistence, never giving up. Sort of sounds like living “immediately.”
In his recent novel The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach tells the story of a young baseball phenom whose love of the game comes from his own devotion to a Hall of Fame shortstop and guru/philosopher of baseball who wrote a book by that same title. At one point in the story, the young man quotes the material by heart to a few teammates whose love for the game and ability to field grounders are all a bit underwhelming. “To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.” Such an existential approach to baseball! But I think it’s a description of what it means to play baseball “immediately”.
Immediately. It has to be more than just a reference to a split second, more than the gospel writer’s verbal tick. If it is going to mean anything to us, it must be more. Follow Jesus with the passion and freshness of a first love. A faith described it in the Book of Revelation as “the love you had at first”. Immediately. Living out your faith with a persistence and a determination to press on and push through with something other than a care-less, mind-less, and heart-less commitment to the task that is a Christ-centered life. Something other than lukewarm (Rev 3). Immediately. Starting each day with such a keen awareness, an existential awakening to the power and joy of living for Christ, and for him alone. Or as the Apostle Paul describes it, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2). Immediately.
I have yet to see someone respond to Christ’s invitation to follow by dropping everything, leaving folks behind, and walking right out of the boat of their lives in a split second. Truth is, if someone did, as a pastor, I would probably be worried. But I have seen folks who have found the strength amid the chew you up and spit you out reality of their working world, found the strength to seek peace in a morning prayer, and joy in deeper relationships, and a gradual shift in the calendar grind all the while looking to “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of the faith”. Immediately. I have seen young people return from a mission trip or a youth conference, so enthusiastically living the faith that the rest of the family finds priorities changing, commitments shifting, and life taking on new purpose as together they sing with their lives “Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is never in vain.” Immediately. I’ve listened in small group as someone describes how a fresh reading of scripture is helping them to see the world and their own life and Jesus himself in a whole new light of relevance and understanding and authenticity. Someone who is living out the God given promise that “Thy Word is Lamp unto my feet.” Immediately. Immediate discipleship.
Maybe the best way to come to consensus on the meaning, the connotation of the term is to cite its opposite, it’s antonym. Something in contrast to immediate discipleship. I reread Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” each year around this King holiday. At the end of his lament for the lack of support from the white moderate church; the lack of support for what is now often described as “the movement”, at the end Dr. King writes this: “So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading to higher levels of justice..”
When the followers of Jesus are standing together as a tail light preserving the status quo of the culture, of the world, the status quo of your life and mine, well, there’s nothing immediate about that.
Jesus said to them, Follow me and I will make you a fisher of people. And immediately they dropped their nets and they followed him.
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