What would you say is the most remarkable miracle in the gospels? Walking on water? Feeding the five thousand? Healing the blind man? Curing a woman’s daughter remotely? For me, it might be this: the calling of the fishermen. Why?
Well, not for the reason I used to give as to why I found this the most remarkable miracle. I used to say it was a remarkable miracle because Jesus’ call, their answer, their leaving boats and nets and family and livelihood to follow Jesus happened so swiftly, so immediately. In fact that word, immediately, finds its way into that short story two times.
One moment they’re tending their nets, mending their nets, and the next, they’re following Jesus, in a whole new trade: setting people free—that, by the way, is my best three-word description of what Jesus means by fishing for people—because that’s what he ends up doing along with these fishermen after he calls them: healing, feeding, forgiving, teaching, blessing people, and never ever requiring anything in return. Setting people free, no strings attached. That is the essence of the ministry of fishing for people to which Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, John, and us.
In a split second these fishermen/followers have crossed over from one to the other, charting a whole new course for their lives. Life decisions of such magnitude just don’t happen that fast. They take time, thought, deliberation, right?
Liz Gilbert writes about falling in love with the Italian language during an extended stay in Italy. Her favorite word: Attraversiamo. It means let’s cross over, as in, let’s cross the street. It’s a longer word though; it’s a luxurious and dilatory word for what we want to do in that moment, which is grab the hand of our partner and dart across the traffic while we have an opportunity. But in Italian it’s not so fast: attraversiamo, and by the time you get to the last syllable, the opening has closed up and the cars are back again. Oh well. We can just step into this little cafe for some cannoli while we wait for another break in traffic.
Whether it’s a busy Italian street or the threshold between the lake and the land, between a livelihood and a life abundant with all its color and rigor; with all its joy and purpose, crossing over any time, anywhere, should be a thoughtful, deliberate, balanced process against other choices weighed, and then, after all six syllables are thoroughly pronounced – decided upon. Let’s cross over.
St. Augustine, living in the 5th century, could be the poster child for slow decision-making. This man of many loves and pursuits thought about becoming a Christian, and thought about it, and then some more, for over a decade before taking that step. He had a lot to lose, of his various loves and other pursuits. “Make me chaste,” was his prayer to God, even before he was a person of Christian faith. “Make me chaste, but not yet.” “Not yet” is a reasonable prayer. It’s intuitive and logical to buy ourselves some time, maybe to postpone a difficult decision, kick the can down the road, stall tactic, maybe, but we need time for big decisions that affect our entire lives.
This is a miracle, that the disciples became disciples so quickly, so immediately. But then I thought, the real miracle in this story is elsewhere, because there’s a lot of immediacy that goes on in our lives, even in our big decisions, more than we realize.
Off to college. Months of preparation and planning, and shopping, and packing, ok yes, driving to campus, unloading for hours on end, fixing up a dorm room, yes all that, back on the curb, saying your goodbyes. Our collegiate walks up the sidewalk, steps through the door; it closes behind them and just like that, they’re gone. A moment ago they were still our child in that well-worn embrace at the curb; a moment later, they belong to the world.
There’s immediacy everywhere, in our lives, even in the big decisions. A marriage proposal. Weeks of deliberating, dreaming, discussions over candlelight dinners, long walks, putting pencil to paper, doing the math. And then, when the moment actually comes . . . it’s a mere instant: “Will you marry me?” That was about 0.9 seconds. I measured it.
You’ve crossed a threshold that will set you on a course sure to change your life radically, and forever. And it took you 0.9 seconds.
Augustine, after all those years of deliberating, resisting, considering, pondering, was in his garden one day, and, in rapid succession, almost in fast motion, heard a voice, opened a parchment, read the words he found there, “Put on Christ,” was converted, baptized, and devoted his entire life to God. It all happened in what seems like a split second.
See what I mean. There’s more immediacy than we think when we do something big, including the choice to follow Jesus, or to renew that decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, brother, friend, and teacher. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in you. Many times.
I remember a conversation with a church member, at a church I formerly served in, on a youth trip together. A lot of time for conversation. He and his wife had moved several times in the course of their years related to their work. He said, “We used to see church as part of the package of getting things figured out when we moved to a new city: house; schools; commute; shopping area; parks; church.” It all sort of fit together, and at some point, he said, that last one changed. He said, “We stopped asking, ‘what does this church have for us?’ and started asking, ‘what does this church need from us?’” He said “It’s made all the difference. In fact that’s why I’m here, on this trip, having such a wonderful time eating cold pizza and sleeping on a bunk bed.”
I said, “When did that change happen? Do you remember?” He said, “I really don’t.”
And it reminds me of that immediacy. Long, slow changes in our lives. Our hearts, our minds, our dispositions, our faith life. And then we go to sleep one night and wake up with a new question: not what does this church have for me, but what does this church need from me? Not what’s in it for me, but what’s in it from me. It’s the crossing over from the first chapter of our lives to the finest chapter of our lives. And it can happen as quickly as turning a page.
Immediately is Mark’s fair-warning signal to the rest of us that when we decide to follow Jesus, or renew that decision, things can accelerate quickly, change in a heartbeat, transform us forever.
And if we didn’t know that before, we certainly do now, in the time of Covid, in the time of immediacy. We’re living off the page of Mark chapter 1. Everything seems immediate. That word, “immediate,” from a word that means “right in the middle” and we are, all of us, right in the middle, in the thick of things. The entire global population has been thrust overnight into the thick of things, and we felt it, haven’t we? That immediacy, that centrality, that sense of being completely surrounded by a pandemic reality, and the challenges and griefs.
And I’ve seen people—I’ve seen you— cross over from the lake to the land, from livelihood to life-giving, overnight. I’ve seen you shifting the question from what’s in it for me to what’s in it from me?
What’s in it from me, in this Covid time? What can I do? Where can I give? How can I serve? Who can I help? When can I start? Why not now?
Why not now?
Maybe that’s what Tennessee Williams meant by that marvelous phrase: “Sometimes there’s God so quickly.”
Stirring a heart; kindling a yearning; providing a pathway. And then in the blink of an eye we go from the lake to the land, from livelihood to life-giving ministry. It’s a most remarkable miracle, isn’t it? But I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s a most remarkable miracle not because it happens so fast. A lot of things do. Not because it happens so fast, but because it happens so often.
I hope it’s happened to you. Or is now in this time of Covid. Or will soon. Maybe immediately.