What about Zebedee? What was he thinking? He had worked his whole life to build up his fishing business. Had saved enough to buy his own boat. Worked hard, getting up in the dark, sometimes fishing all night trying to make a living for his family. After many years of this his two sons, James and John, were finally grown. They could work side by side with their father making the work that much easier. Zebedee was perhaps envisioning that one day soon he’d be able to cut back on his work hours, go into a sort of semi-retirement, take up golf, perhaps. Then this Jesus comes along and all of his beautiful plans go kaflooey. His boys leave him, he’s alone in the boat and he’s now twenty-some years older and tireder than when he first started out. What did he think about Jesus calling his sons to follow him?
A few years ago there was a fad with books, posters, tee shirts, ball caps and wrist bands containing the letters “WWJD” – what would Jesus do? The idea was that we should act in ways that was consistent with the values of Christ which are planted in our hearts. Certainly a good criterion to use in making decisions but, like all fads, it faded. Perhaps the reason it faded was that the different circumstances in which we find ourselves nowadays makes it hard to tell what Jesus would do. Jesus was not married, was not a mother, did not grow old. Jesus didn’t have to cope with social media, put up with road rage, fear getting caught in a gang cross-fire. Jesus did not incur student debt, get a vaccine for corona virus, worry about health insurance. So maybe we need a better motto: WDJWMTD – what does Jesus want me to do. This implies that our decisions are unique to us, that what God wants of me is different from what God wants from you, that our state and condition in life shapes how we respond to the presence of Christ in our hearts. The Bible says that God calls us by name, as individuals; hence, we respond to the call of God in our individual way.
What the new proposed motto has in common with WWJD is the priority it places on where the decision lies. When you seek first the will of God in our lives, then all these things will be given unto you. If my experience is typical, most times most of us don’t seek God first. Instead we kind of bring God in at the end after we’ve already made our decision — something like the co-signer on a loan. When we are deciding what to study in college we assess our gifts and talents, where are interests are, what the job prospects are and then we decide on a major. What God wants for us does not enter into the equation. If we bring the decision into prayer it is to affirm what we to do, not to see what God might want us to do. When we are deciding whether to get married we look for the deep well of love in our hearts, we see how wonderful our proposed spouse is, we assess if now is the time to make a commitment. My guess is that most times people don’t ask, does God want me to marry this person or to get married at all, for that matter? We tend to presume that our decisions are ours to make. The desire to seek what God wants for us does not have priority over what we want.
Which brings us back to Zebedee… He had to trust that the call of Jesus was more important than his plans, his hopes, his desires. Like all parents he wanted what was best for his children. He wanted them to do well in life, to take a step up the ladder, to become upwardly mobile. Maybe they’d have a fleet of boats and become the big men on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus on the other hand was inviting them to a life of downward mobility, of not more and more but less and less. God’s will for them contrasted with Zebedee’s dreams. This reminds me of a recent experience: at a priest meeting the vocation director for the Archdiocese said that the biggest single obstacle to a young man entering the seminary are his parents. (Probably the same would apply for women entering the convent.) Parents want their child to succeed, to earn six figures, to be comfortable, to give them grandchildren. What God might want for their child is not part of their calculus. Momma knows best so no religious life for you. God’s call is too obscure so stick to what you know.
What about us? We are here today because in some way, shape or form we, like Peter and Andrew, James and John, have felt the call of Jesus. Maybe it was in the way we were raised, maybe in values we received from our families, maybe from an experience that we had along the way but, whatever the reason, we are here on a Sunday morning responding to the call. The challenge of the gospel is that we are to have as our one desire and choice what God wants, not what we want. The temptation is to reverse the process and bring to God a list of demands, what we want – good health, happy family, six good numbers – and then wait for God to fulfill them. When that doesn’t happen we can feel as if God is not there for us. However, as the life of Jesus demonstrates, surrendering to the will of God, even when it includes the cross, is the way to have the joy that surpasses anything we can hope or imagine. The boat we leave behind is nothing compared with the glory God has in store.