Formations 06.02.2024: A Journey to Jesus

John 1:37-42; Matthew 4:18-22

Some people come to Jesus in a heartbeat. Other people come to Jesus only after they’re given time to mull it over. A face-value reading of the Gospels would suggest that Simon Peter did both.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of how Jesus approaches Simon and his brother Andrew by the sea and promises that they will be fishers of people. The two brothers immediately jump at the offer. They leave their fishing nets behind and become two of Jesus’s first disciples.

I’ve heard sermons about this determined commitment to Jesus, and so have you. Simon and Andrew, and their fellow fishermen James and John, were held up as examples of decisive action. They aren’t paralyzed by indecision. They don’t overthink their situation. Jesus calls, and they respond. I’m sure I’ve heard more than one fervent evangelist turning the point of the story into something like, “There’s no need to think it over, just act.”

When we turn to John’s Gospel, however, we read a different story. In John 1, we’re told that Simon’s brother Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist. John pointed Andrew to Jesus. Andrew then found his brother Simon and pointed him to Jesus, too.

It’s not always wise or appropriate to try to harmonize variant biblical accounts of events. It’s usually better to live in the tension and confess that there is much we do not know. But if we’re so inclined, I think these two stories can be joined in a way that shows us a fuller picture.

What if Simon and Andrew had already encountered Jesus, just as John says? What if those brothers had spent some time on the sidelines of Jesus’s ministry, listening to what he had to say? Maybe they had even witnessed a healing or two.

Then, a few days or weeks later, what if Jesus approached them by the sea and invited them to a deeper level of discipleship? What if they said their immediate and enthusiastic “Yes” because they had first spent untold hours getting to know Jesus and what he was all about?

I can’t prove that that’s what happened. I certainly wouldn’t put it forth as the only way to handle these two divergent stories we find in the Gospels. But it is a scenario that makes sense.

And if it’s at least partly true, then it might tell us something about the nature of discipleship. Namely, it tells us that we shouldn’t expect people to go from zero to sixty in their discipleship with a single conversation. These things take time, even for brash and headstrong apostles like Simon Peter.

I suspect that most stories of a sudden, dramatic conversion are a little more nuanced if we dig below the surface. And I suspect well-meaning evangelists who press for a decision right away might be missing something. People need the time and space to make a decision that will count for a lifetime.

Discussion

• Was your journey toward faith something sudden or something more gradual?
• Why do you think John and the Synoptics tell the story of Simon Peter’s call in such different ways?
• What does each account teach us about the nature of discipleship?
• What do these accounts tell us about Peter’s life before Jesus entered it?
• How might these accounts shape the way we read the other chapters of Peter’s story?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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