The Chosen People
I don’t really have any regrets when I think back on my life. But there are a couple experiences I wish I could have had. I mean, I suppose I still might have these experiences, but at my age, it doesn’t seem likely, and no…I’m not talking about any particular sex acts. I think I would have liked the opportunity to be really comfortable financially. I’m not talking about rich, here, just…comfortable. You know, I’d like to not have to worry about having enough money to pay all my bills, or to be able to just up and take a trip to France without saving for years. I’d like to have the security of not having to worry if something major with the house or car needs some kind of repair. I know people like this and I envy them a little.
Of course, when I chose to become a teacher, I knew that life was never going to happen for me. And some folks might say that I chose a much more meaningful path, and they’d be right. I don’t regret becoming a teacher at all. I just wish I could be a financially secure teacher. Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen. No, I knew I was never going to be rich, but still…it would have been nice.
I would also like to know what it’s like to be really popular. When I was a kid, I was always the one chosen last for any team. Of course, this is largely because I was…well…largely. Fat kids don’t usually make for good athletes, so nobody wanted me on his team. They were right of course. I was horrible at sports. I wouldn’t have wanted me on my team, but I had no choice. I was always the runner up. The times I have run for some kind of elected position, such as union representative, I’ve only won for one of two reasons. Either we had a horrible boss and people knew that nobody was better at fighting a horrible boss than I was, or there was nobody else willing to run.
Again, I’m not really complaining. I have my fans. They are not legion, but hey, I’ve got over 120,000 blog reads. And there are many people who really like my music, and my poetry. And I believe that it’s better to have a few people who really like what you do than a helluva lot of people who sort of like what you do. In the end, the only way to be really popular is to never do anything that pisses people off, and people who never piss people off are seldom doing anything of any importance, the Beatles notwithstanding. Actually, even they pissed a lot of people off, they just were damn good and who can argue with that?
Anyway, I’m not really good at being chosen. Even when I got my teaching job, it was when there was a huge teacher shortage in Los Angeles. Who knows if I could get the same job today, in a tight market. This is not to say that I lack confidence, but I’m realistic enough to know that there are plenty of people who are just plain more likable than I am. I can’t help it, and I’ve learned to accept it. Had I been Abraham, God would have chosen some other people.
In fact, by ancient Jewish thought, I’m certain that God would never have chosen me. I am nowhere near holy enough to be the kind of guy that God chooses. Back in the first century, people in Judea pretty much figured that the rich people, the powerful, the priests, all held those positions in society because God had chosen them. Hell, people talked about the divine right of kings for thousands of years. In fact, if you were crippled or homeless or starving, it was because God was pissed at you. There was no sympathy for you. If you were down, it was because you deserved it. Countries had droughts and famines and plagues only because they had sinned before the Lord.
It was this very attitude that Jesus was trying to change. Jesus came to teach that this was not God’s way. And then he set about to live those final three years of his life in a way that would illustrate our relationship with the divine spirit. Jesus came out of the wilderness after being baptized by John with this one message.
“After John [the Baptist] had been handed over,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment. It makes near, The kingdom of God .
Change your way of thinking, and rely on the good news."
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him. (Mark, Chapter One, 14-20, BD Translation)
The first people that Jesus chose to follow him were a couple of fishermen. Of course, the vocation of Peter and Andrew is highly symbolic. It is no accident that the gospel of Mark begins and ends at the Sea of Galilee. Even we modern people see the sea and all that live in it as a metaphor for our world. Why else would we have Sponge Bob Square Pants? Jesus chooses fishermen to help him fish for the souls of humankind. But what is more important, is whom Jesus does not choose. He does not go looking for holy people. In fact, you don’t get much more earthy than fishermen. Anyone who knows professional fishermen, knows that they are a salty lot.
But this idea that God chooses whomever S/He damn well wants to choose is a common theme throughout even the Old Testament. Okay, Noah and Joseph were pretty damn holy. But Moses was just some poor ex-prince of Egypt, rescued from the Nile by pure chance, a fugitive from Egyptian law, and a working stiff, herding sheep for his father in law. Gideon was just a poor guy trying to steal some of the leftovers from the Midianites. David was just a young boy herding sheep in the fields when he chosen to become the greatest king the children of Israel had ever known. It seems to be a habit with God to see things in ordinary people that most people don’t.
Of course, Andrew was a seeker. At least, we know from the writer of John that Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist before he followed Jesus, so he must have been looking for something. He must have had some sense that there was something in what was being taught about God that didn’t quite ring true. He was looking for something. And to his credit, as soon as he heard the call of Jesus, he abandoned—literally “dismissed” his fishing net, and went after him. This would suggest that, once seeing Jesus, the fishing net, the source of his livelihood, no longer meant anything to him. So it was a mutual choosing of sorts. Jesus chose Andrew and Peter, and they chose him. Life is all about choices, isn’t it?
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, AKA “the sons of thunder” because of their strong wills, chose to leave their nets and their father right there in the boat. I’ll bet there was hell to pay when they got home later. The Greek word translated as “left”, “aperchomai”, has the figurative meaning of dying also. So on another level, James and John died to their father. They felt chosen and they chose to follow.
Jesus called on all of those who would listen to change their minds, to look at the world in a different way. Why did people follow? People followed for the very same reason they follow today, the basic truth of the message. Deep in our core we know that mercy is better than power, that kindness is not a weakness, that peace is better than war, that forgiveness is better than vengeance. Deep down, we know that money and power and fame will not bring happiness, even if achieved. We see the truth in understanding that the way to feel the love of the divine is to share our love with everyone around us. We heal ourselves by healing others. That truth resonates within us.
The message here in Mark is that God has chosen each one of us to come after Jesus and live out his words. By our very birth, we have been chosen by God to rebuild paradise. Each one of us has been anointed to serve one another. That is the good news of the kingdom. We have love. We can have faith in love. We can find hope in love. And as God has chosen each one of us, each one of us has the power to choose the way of love. We can walk away from those old desires like acquiring stuff, money, power, prestige, and choose to reach out to one another. Life is, after all, about making choices, like choosing to be poverty –stricken teacher. The kingdom of God is love, and the kingdom of God is at hand, it is making itself near. In fact, it is there in the person right next to you. It is what you see when you look in the mirror.
So there is at least one team for which I was chosen. And I’m pretty sure it’s a winning team, too.