I was trying to imagine this week what it would be like to live in a world that had never heard of Jesus. It’s almost impossible. That one life changed this world in so many ways, and so many of our most basic values and perspectives come from 2000 years of Jesus’ influence. Forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrificing love – all of our understanding of these things comes from our experience of Jesus. Other religions have these concepts, of course, but as Christians, we understand them in unique ways.
But the world that we hear about in today’s Gospel, the world of Andrew and Simon, had never heard of Jesus. The idea that the Son of God would come to be a human being, to live a human life, didn’t exist. The possibility that the Messiah would be an ordinary person, walking around the countryside with other ordinary people, would not have occurred to those first followers. The idea that God would suffer and die and be raised from the dead would have made no sense to them.
So when they first heard about him from John the Baptist or heard him speak for the first time, they could not have really understood what they were hearing. And yet, they went to him. Without knowing what they were experiencing or what it might mean for them or for the world, they went to Jesus. Something drove them away from everything they knew and understood into a life that they could not possibly predict or control.
People do this, sometimes. They suddenly throw away the life that they know for something completely new and different. They let go of security and predictability and take off on some adventure that may or may not turn out well. The rest of us watch them and try to figure out what in the world is going on with them. It looks crazy to us. What is going on with them?
I think it has to do with longing. All of us long for something. We long for love or security or success. We long for wealth or fame or reputation. Sometimes our longings can be satisfied. And that’s wonderful. But I think that the majority of us carry longings in our hearts that go deeper than what the world can offer us. We long for truth or for beauty or for the love of God. The problem is that often, those longings go unnamed. 21st century America is not a place where it is common for people to have what we would call “romantic ideals.” We are a practical people, given to business plans and long-range planning. And goodness knows, there’s nothing wrong with that. We do very well, by and large, by setting achievable goals.
But what happens to those deep longings? What happens to the dream of truth or divine love? Sometimes, we just bury them. We decide that they are part of childhood or naiveté and we ignore them. We settle for life as it is and are often happy enough. But every once in a while, the longing comes out. We hear someone speak or we read a book, and all of a sudden, that buried desire comes bursting out. And that’s when people drop their careers and their safe lives and go off to pursue a dream.
I think that’s what happened with Andrew and Simon and the other disciples. They lived in a world that valued security and planning as much as ours does, perhaps even more, since life was so much more precarious a thing in that time and place. But there was a longing in their hearts, a longing for a life that was richer and deeper than anything they knew. They longed to hear about love – not sweetheart love but real love – the kind that suffers and dies for the life of another. They longed to hear about truth that could not be compromised, truth that was stronger than any lie in the universe.
And somehow, when they heard Jesus speak, they knew that he was their longing fulfilled. I’ve been re-watching the TV series “West Wing” over the last few months and am reminded of an episode early in the first season when Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn discover Jeb Bartlett. Josh is a political operative for a politician he doesn’t respect and Sam is working for a cutthroat law firm, doing a good job for them, but hating himself in the process. Sam says to Josh, “Is your guy the real deal?” and Josh says no. Sam then says, “If you find the real deal, come and get me.” A few weeks later, Josh hears Jeb Bartlett speak. The next scene is Josh standing outside a conference room in which Sam is doing some sleazy deal. He beckons Sam and, when Sam comes out, he says, “I found the real deal.” Sam simply grabs his jacket and leaves with Josh. I think the scene with Andrew and Simon must have looked a lot like that.
Jesus is the real deal. Jesus is worth dropping everything to follow. The disciples knew that instinctively. Without knowing who Jesus was, they knew that he was the answer to the deepest questions of their hearts. They didn’t know what would happen next or how their lives would be changed. They didn’t know that they would experience the most joy and the most sorrow they had ever known. And still, they went to him.
In two thousand years, that hasn’t changed. Jesus calls to the deepest longings of our hearts. We hardly dare dream of love like that. We don’t dare imagine a vision that could rule our lives so profoundly. But the love is there, and the vision is still being held out to us. And, most importantly, Jesus is still calling to us. We don’t know what will happen to us if we follow. It may take extraordinary courage to follow Jesus. But what we know in our deepest hearts is that answering that call, no matter what happens, will be the most important thing we ever do.
I pray for all of us the courage to listen to the deepest longings of our hearts, to hear Jesus answering those longings, and the grace to follow wherever he leads us.