Imagine walking into an interview for a job you never applied for. There’s no job description or even a title. The interviewer asks no questions but just gives you the job. It sounds great…but you’re suspicious. What is this job? Why aren’t they telling me anything about it? But you go along with it. Maybe there’s on-the-job training. Still, you have no idea what to expect.
It sounds absurd, but it’s a lot like how I landed my job at the ELCA Churchwide Office in Chicago before I came here. It wasn’t a job I ever expected or even applied for. It just kind of fell in my lap. My “interview” consisted of a five minute phone call with the woman who would become my boss. I don’t think there were really any questions, except for one. After talking for a couple minutes about what the job was and what she needed, she asked me: “So do you think you can do it?” Sure.
I started the next week, with virtually no idea what I was doing. Over the next several months, I quite literally learned my job as I went…and it became one of my favorite jobs, all starting from a simple invitation: So do you think you can do it?
At least I got a brief description in advance. The would-be disciples in our gospel got nothing. In one moment, they’re just doing what they do best: peacefully fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Then in strolls Jesus the job recruiter. Did they know who this random guy was? Maybe…maybe not. Would you pay attention to a random person yelling “Repent!” and who tells you, with no other details, “Follow me!”? Doubtful. But that’s exactly what they do. Immediately.
“It seems strange,” one preacher (Barbara Lundblad) observes, “even absurd that these fishermen immediately left their nets to follow Jesus. Where were they going? They didn’t know. What would they be doing? They didn’t know that either. Who was the one who called them? Well, that wasn’t completely clear…Whatever it was, those fishermen knew they had to get up from where they were to find out.”
The disciples aren’t the only ones hired that day. The job recruiter himself had also gone through something of his own interview process. Prior to this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just been baptized by John and tempted by the devil in the wilderness. On top of that, John had just been arrested, and we meet Jesus “withdrawing,” or more accurately, fleeing (anachōreō). Earlier, the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape Herod; later, Jesus will again flee to the wilderness after hearing that John has been beheaded. In all of these contexts, the key players are fleeing because of violence or the threat of violence at the hands of the empire.
Jesus had every reason to give up, to avoid doing the life-giving, liberating work he had been called to do. It was “the temptation after the temptation” (Raj Nadella). A bit, perhaps, like a test during a job interview. But Jesus, like the disciples he will soon call, steps right into the heart of the risky business of challenging the empire and preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven to those who need to receive it.
Because this work is critical. People are hurting, and lives are at stake. Real people. Real lives. Real challenges. A daunting job description.
Jesus gets that, and he invites others into this work, to do it together: Proclaiming good news. Curing every disease and sickness. And before long, we catch a glimpse of the compensation package: A reputation that spreads and soon attracts a community of people throughout the empire, people of all nations and races and religions and abilities. This is good news worth spreading. Good news for all people. What starts with Jesus fleeing for his life ends with Jesus and his disciples stronger and bolder together.
There’s a job offer for us on the table. The duties are laid out in our baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
This is what it means to follow. Jesus calls us as we are, where we are. No special qualifications or education or experience required.
None of us is particularly qualified for the job at hand that Jesus calls us to. But God, in God’s grace, makes us qualified. Jesus didn’t call a bunch of fishermen and ask them to be something they’re not. He came to them where they were, spoke to them in the language they knew, and invited them to fish for people, to help him gather all people into the wide embrace of God’s net of healing and forgiveness and love.
It’s a job like no other. This job doesn’t depend on us, but on the one who invites us. Left to ourselves, it’s easy to mess things up…big time. Left on their own, the Corinthian church had managed to splinter their community into rival factions, based on who baptized them. But Paul is quick to remind them: This isn’t about you. It’s about Christ. It’s not about who baptized who. It’s about proclaiming the gospel. Or more accurate to the Greek: just to gospel (as a verb, euaggelizō).
Ultimately, it’s not even about what we say, but how we live. St. Francis has famously said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
The call of Jesus and the reminder of Paul is the church’s invitation: Follow me and gospel. This is an invitation to get swept up into a movement that is bigger than any of us individually, as we embody good news that has the capacity to transform the world – in our service to others and in seeking God’s justice for the whole creation.
Jesus doesn’t call us to be something we’re not. He calls us to be who we are and to offer what we already have. Each of us is called. Each of us is capable of being God’s agents of transformation in the world.
Jesus calls us by name. There’s power to that. It’s proven that personal asks are much more effective than generic email blasts or mass mailings. I get postcards in the mail all the time inviting the “Current Resident” to come visit the church up the street from my apartment. All of which immediately go into the recycling bin. But when my pastor at my previous congregation invited me personally to a leadership role, I accepted. Those personal invitations are effective because they tell us that the person calling us sees something in us and has faith in us, qualified or not, that we have something to offer.
In the words we’ll sing in our hymn of the day, let yourself hear Jesus’s invitation, spoken to you:
“Will come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
and never be the same?”
This is a job like no other, given to us by the one who calls our name, claims us as beloved, and bids us to follow. And the thing about following implies it’s a job for more than one, and it means that we are never alone.