Peter and Paul – at first sight a strange unlikely pairing. From the snapshots we get of both of them in the New Testament we see a Peter who is fairly bumbling, not too bright, an impulsive and utterly undiplomatic man who probably wouldn’t make it past the first stage in the official ministry discernment process today. And a Paul who is a highly educated Jew, well acquainted with the Law, completely opinionated that he is always right, and sure of himself in 95 % of everything he does.
A Peter who from the most unlikely beginnings is chosen by Jesus not only to be one of his first followers, but also to be the kingpin and leader of the people who will follow the Way of Jesus – the Church. A mere fisherman, an ordinary labourer. And a Paul who was one of the most enthusiastic persecutors of that same infant Church until Jesus said, “I’ve got something very different in mind for you and you won’t like it, but you’ll have to do it.” Paul, the arrogant, articulate self-elected apostle, who shaped a great deal of what we know today as “Christianity.”
The conclusion we might draw is that God seems to call and use people in some very odd ways. Ways and paths that we might never consider, without the influence of others, or – some might say – the Holy Spirit. The frequently repeated little sentence – if you want to make God laugh tell God your plans – pops up again and again when we think we know where we’re headed, when we’re absolutely sure that our career path is in business, banking, medicine, having children (a full time career in itself), the Church, being a police officer or carpenter or musician. What we say is a “calling” isn’t at all necessarily church-related. God may, for example, have given us talents to be a whizz with numbers and understand the complexities of finance. What we do with that talent is another matter. We could be accountants, or City traders earning ridiculous amounts of money. Or choose to use that talent by sacrificing monetary affluence and instead run a credit union to keep people out of the pay-day loan type of debt, or organise micro finance to help impoverished village people in developing countries get on the road to self-reliance. Then again, we could be headed for a glittering career in business and unexpectedly get kicked by the Holy Spirit’s size 13 boot into offering ourselves for Christian ministry. Just ask Philip!
It can be frustrating, not having a clear direction in life. Even worse, doing something you hate, even if you’re good at it. And a third option: be happily working where you feel comfortable, something normal and expected, and then be jarred out of a secure position. This thing called “God’s Will” can really feel like a bit of a trick. If “it” happens, then it’s God’s Will. If it doesn’t then obviously it isn’t. One has to ask the uncomfortable question “why should we use the energy and soul-searching to discover God’s Will when seemingly it doesn’t matter what we do one way or the other?” How do we KNOW? Are we supposed to know what’s the right thing to do when a rather scruffy itinerant preacher wanders by your fishing boat and says, you there, come follow me. And although it probably seemed right to James and John at the time I’ll bet that Zebedee wasn’t too pleased when his two sons just walked off the boat leaving him to work the nets on his own. James and John, of course, found out very quickly that it wasn’t going to be a great adventure, but a complete change of lifestyle.
Peter might have worried about leaving his wife, mother in law and possibly children for an uncertain life sleeping rough. Paul might have asked “why me?” I’m a respected Jewish scholar with a high standing in the community, why would I want to give all that up to face a life of no prestige, no money, possible imprisonment and messy death? In the letter to the Galatians Paul says when his shattering experience
happened, he didn’t go ask the other apostles or even another human being what to do – he went completely away from his familiar surroundings to have a good think about it and then returned to where he first made his life changing decision. Echoes
of Jesus in the desert after his own baptismal experience perhaps?
Both Peter and Paul might have said “no” to their callings. Peter could (and most likely did) return to fishing at Capernaum until it dawned that Jesus was indeed alive, forever, and what he taught all his followers was that they had to preach and share the Good News of God’s kingdom. And that he, Peter, could indeed do this because he believed it himself. Paul went off to the desert to sort himself out, and came back with the drive and compulsion to bring that same Good News to the whole world including Gentiles; which got him into endless hot water with the Jerusalem proJewish Christians. But he did it anyway, permission or not.
Ezekiel reminds us that when the Lord speaks, we need to pay attention, to open our minds, our hearts, and to hear it properly. Then to take those words onwards, spread the news to others regardless of how it’s received. If our minds are closed, then we have no chance of hearing God. But this then comes back to “how do we know it’s God speaking?” Perhaps one answer is to try out ideas on ourselves and people we respect to get both interior and exterior reflections. A theological option is never to go back on decisions made in times of happiness, but always closely examine decisions made in times of depression.
We probably won’t ever KNOW on the intellectual level. And having the courage to trust God is often very scary. It might mean a whole different way of life. But it might only mean something very simple to help build the Kingdom. Is it better to try and fail than to never try? Is it better to learn from the examples of Peter and Paul and give your life for the command to “follow me” than sit in a complacent status quo, afraid of doing anything at all? We can only answer for ourselves; but ideally listen carefully, discern, wonder, pray and bounce ideas off others. Then go out onto the spiritual 10 metre diving board, let go, let God, jump in and just… get on with it!
Leslie Spatt 2015