I can’t read Mark 1: 14-20, the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John, without getting stuck on verse 20- the one that tells about poor old Zebedee, the father of James and John, who gets left in the boat while his sons run off, responding to Jesus’ direction: “Follow me.”
It’s always bothered me how they leave their dad so willingly to follow Jesus. The scant bit of hope that the verse offers us (“They left their father Zebedee with the hired men” v. 20…) is just enough to make me feel okay about this. Sure, the hired men will look after Zebedee- he won’t float out to sea all alone in the boat- and for that I am grateful.
I remember, in my own life, the pulling away from family as a mark of growing independence- the first time that I did not come home for Spring Break, the time when I chose to stay on campus for Easter weekend, the time when I slipped up in a conversation with my mother and referred to her taking me back to school as taking me “home-” I could see the hurt in her eyes, and hear the disappointment in her voice over the phone, as I announced my own plans, feeling strong and bold and emergent.
I also remember when my mother moved to England, having sold our family home just as I graduated from college, emerging from those fantastic four years with a BA in psychology and no job. My mother was following her husband, my step father, who had just retired, and they were stepping into their own dream of a life in a cozy cottage in the Cotswolds, placing my little sister nearby in a girls’ boarding school behind a great iron gate, across from Princess Di and Prince Charles’ house.
We are communal creatures. And, life calls us to pull apart at times in order to fulfill dreams, to grow in knowledge and to become all that God has intended for us to be. This growing, this shaping, is sometimes joyful, and sometimes painful.
I remember when I handed my five-month old baby, all pink and beautiful in her white baptismal gown, to the priest who, having splashed her with water moments before, smeared her forehead with oil, proclaiming that she was now marked as “Christ’s own forever.” Wait. One. Minute. That sweet baby was mine. I was not, at age 29, ready to hand over the best thing that I had ever done, and have her marked as someone else’s- even Jesus’. I’ve changed my tune on that, now, thirty years hence, and see that it is not a simple as Mine or Yours; for those of us grounded in the Christian faith know that we are connected to Jesus- all of us- by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit who moves beyond flesh and bone, in and around and between us, gathering us up into community through an amazing web of love. To give oneself to Jesus is not to deny others in our lives, but to become, of ourselves, bigger and deeper and broader- to become part of a Body that transcends time and space and home and hearth. Becoming Christian is an expansive process.
I’m putting my money on the hired men. That they are going to step up and care for Zebedee. That they will not only make sure that he gets enough to eat, and that they will get him home safely at the end of the day, but that they will bring him a good word about what they hear of James and John- how Zebedee’s sons are with a man who heals the sick, brings sight to the blind and cause the lame to leap up. That they have been called to a Big Thing. That their leaving is not a deserting, but a chance for deepening… and that they are still connected to their dad. Damn Mark, for writing such a spare gospel. If he’d had the gift of gab, I would have liked him to pen a verse about the happy reunion of James and John with old Zebedee, home for a fortnight from their work, sharing the glory of God’s Kingdom, come to fruition in the man named Jesus.