The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written… Acts 15:6-8, 12-15
Have you ever noticed that the process of spiritual discernment is often much more complicated than merely examining the evidence logically? The more background I read about the Jerusalem Council and its crucial considerations in Acts 15, the more I worry I might have voted the wrong way, if I had been among them. As it turns out, being a legalist is a lot easier than we would like to think.
Circumcision, to the very first Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, was a big deal…every bit as big a deal as baptism is to the Christian church today. It was clearly not an act “stumbled upon” through some twist of tradition and men’s preferences…it was an act given to them by God Himself. There was a plethora of Holy Scripture which required it [insert your favorite among a half dozen or so Old Testament stories showing God’s clear directives about circumcision here]. It was a non-negotiable to them, because …
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37
I admit that, sometimes during my childhood, under some circumstances which might come about upon occasion, I was, at times, capable of being…the teacher’s pet. I do NOT admit to being crass about it, nor even intentionally manipulative about it. And I certainly never perfected the art in nearly the way(s) my younger daughter seems to have done so (sorry, Reno…cat’s out of the bag now I guess). But I will confess that, when one of my teachers may have favored me a little one way or another, I liked it…and may have even used it to my advantage at times. Whew! So glad to get that off my chest!
So, when I read about James and John and their not-so-secret desire for favored treatment with Jesus, I admit that I actually understand where they were coming from. Don’t act like you don’t get it. I know you do.
The truth about all of us is that we enjoy being favored. We relish special treatment. When the flight attendant comes to your seat in coach and informs you that you have been selected to enjoy a free upgrade into first class for this flight, you have no problem gathering your belongings and bouncing up to the comfy seats as if you deserve it. When the police officer pulls me over and has me on his radar doing 65 in a 55, and then tells me he is just going to give me …
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:4-5
O.K., I know virtually nothing about the commercial fishing industry. I’ve never even seen an episode of The Deadliest Catch. And I certainly have very little knowledge of what that industry looked like 2000 years ago. I suspect that Peter and the guys had been through a very long, very hard night of tossing their tangled nets out and dragging them back in empty…I suspect that they were as skilled as anyone at this particular trade but that their very best and most strenuous efforts had been completely fruitless on this particular night…and I suspect they were exhausted and disappointed and frustrated. But that is all speculation on my part, because I don’t really know much about fishing. Nevertheless, I have a theory about what was going on in Peter’s mind when Jesus, the carpenter/teacher/NON-fisherman, wryly suggested that they pick up their nets and head out and try again one more time. I contend that what Peter was thinking in his head at that moment would NOT have made for good scripture.
Very much like Peter and James and John, we have developed some real expertise when it comes to “doing church”. Given hundreds of years to develop our systems and our understandings of scripture, we have a strong sense of what works and what does not work. We study our culture and think we’re pretty knowledgeable about the best ways to teach and to minister and to reach people. And when we set out to implement a ministry …