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The First Disciple
In 1901 and 1902, the American psychologist and philosopher, William James, was invited to give the Gifford Lectures on natural religion at the University of Edinburgh, which grew into his famous book The Varieties of Religious Experience. There he presented literally hundreds of descriptions of ways that human beings have experienced religious conversion. James is known for the distinction he drew between people who are "once-born" and those who are "twice-born." The once-born find it much easier to respond to God and to give themselves in love and obedience because of their personality structure, disposition, and experiences early in life. In contrast, the twice-born have more conflicted religious experiences, perhaps because of their tempestuous personalities or difficult things that have happened to them. These are people who have experiences like Paul's on the road to Damascus, and are likely to exclaim, "Once I was blind and now I see! Once I was dead and now I'm alive!" Some of us may wish for such a sweeping spiritual change in our lives, but James sees value in both experiences. Neither is automatic or effortless. A religious experience is highly personal and participatory, occurring when something in us freely responds to that mysterious reality that we dare to call the Holy One.
I remember hearing an old preacher say, "If you could get religion and not know it, then you could lose it and not miss it." You have to be involved. The once-born cross the stream at the narrowest point, while the twice-born may have to cross an ocean. Christ is the Lord of all kinds of experiences. Disciples in the twice-born category would include John, who became the "beloved disciple," after having been a "son of thunder" in his youth; and Matthew, the tax collector, and Simon, the Zealot, who began at opposite poles of ideologies and personalities but were so transformed by Jesus that they became intimate companions. Many of the disciples in the twice-born category had decisive experiences that markedly changed their lives, whereas Andrew seemed spiritually inclined from the beginning. He brought to Jesus a mature spirit and open nature, characteristic of those James called once-born. He moved from strength to strength, and Jesus simply helped to enhance who Andrew was already, without the striking changes that we find in the journeys of the twice-born. There is no set pattern or singular way that God works in our lives but rather a vast keyboard on which he plays. All of us are recipients of the mysterious, ingenious mercy of the Holy One, and it may be that your walk with God has been that steady unfolding of strength to strength, from step to step. Andrew's reliable character was very much the same throughout his life.
Andrew was one of three pairs of brothers that became part of the intimate circle of Jesus' disciples. It is interesting that six of the twelve gathered around Jesus had another brother who was also a disciple. These brothers were James and John, Andrew and Simon Peter, and Matthew and James. Andrew was a fisherman by trade, from a little town called Bethsaida, on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. He went to Capernaum, on the northwestern side of the lake, where tradition says that he and Simon Peter worked for James and John's father, Zebedee, in his thriving fishing business. Andrew is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but it is only in John that we find any information about what kind of person he was, and how he grew in his friendship with Jesus.
The first glimpse we have of Andrew is in the company of John the Baptist, whose ministry touched Andrew's soul and prepared him for Jesus. Many believe he was the first disciple to be attracted to Jesus and to say yes to following him. John the Baptist reminded his listeners often that he was not the Messiah himself, but the one who prepared the way for the Messiah. He would tell them that he baptized with water, but the One to come would baptize them with the Holy Spirit, the energy and power of God. John the Baptist had a sense of expectancy that something was about to happen that would change everything. Andrew was with him one day when Jesus came into John's line of vision. As soon as John saw his cousin, Jesus, he pointed to him and said, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). It was his first acknowledgment that here was the One about whom he had spoken for so long.
I imagine that Andrew and all those who were gathered there with John the Baptist were astounded by his words and, particularly, by the image that he chose: the Lamb of God. You see, for a thousand years, the Israelites had been looking for a lion of God to come as the Messiah. They were not looking for a lamb. They expected another King David, who would drive out the Romans from their sacred soil and extend the political power of Jerusalem, but that was not God's intention for the chosen people. God had a different plan in mind when he called the descendants of Abraham to be his chosen ones (Genesis 22:17). The same generous impulse that moved God to create, also moved him to bless what he had created.
When you stop and think about it, if the goal is to bless and to re-establish trusting, loving relationships between God and those who have turned away from him, then a lamb willing to endure suffering is what you need. You cannot bludgeon people into being good, nor force seeds of love to grow with a sledgehammer. If you want to evoke love and call people out of evil back to goodness, you need someone who is willing to accept and endure the ravages of evil without imitating and returning evil. The Lamb of God is far better equipped to restore creation to its loving maker than a king who comes with a sword. When it comes to changing evil into good, nothing is more powerful than the spectacle of innocent suffering. Yet, the unexpected metaphor of a lamb was likely to have been confusing, and even shocking, to Andrew.
Jesus and Andrew had both grown up in the northern part of Palestine called Galilee, which was not a very large area. Andrew could have easily known Jesus when he worked in the shop of his father, Joseph, as a young carpenter's apprentice from the insignificant hill town of Nazareth. Andrew was probably surprised that a fellow from his hometown area turned out to be the one whom God had chosen to do the messianic work. Many of us think that anybody who shares the same humble beginnings as ours cannot be particularly special. Time and again we see this tendency to underestimate the people we have always known. The Wright brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio and built their flying machine in their bicycle shop. After they had made their successful flight from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, word of it got back to the newspaper editor in Dayton, who said: "I don't believe it! I don't think human beings will ever fly. That is not something they were meant to do. That's what the birds are supposed to do, and if human beings ever do fly, it won't be anybody from Dayton." That just seems to be the way we provincial folk are. Andrew might also have said to himself, "Should a messiah of any kind come, be he lamb or lion, he won't be from that nondescript town of Nazareth!" The amazing thing to me is that, even though Jesus was far different from what Andrew could have expected, he was willing to let reality come to him on its own terms. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was not at all what Andrew had anticipated, yet he stayed open and receptive to him.
Andrew was with John the Baptist again when John saw Jesus the next day and said to the crowd for the second time, "Look, here is the Lamb of God." On this occasion, Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus and asked him where he was staying. Jesus replied with wonderful simplicity, "Come and see" (John 1:39). He invited Andrew and his friend to spend time with him and, in that time together, something astonishing occurred: Andrew saw in Jesus the very presence of God himself, come to do the work of Messiah. Andrew was willing to allow reality to break through his vastly different expectations and registered it fully. Thus he discovered in Jesus not just another good man making his way to God, but the good God himself who had chosen to make his way to humankind. It is the deepest core of my convictions that Jesus gives a face to the mystery of God, and on that face there is the smile of unconditional love. It is the mystery of incarnation and the great central truth of the Christian faith that, for us and our salvation, God chose to become what we are, so that we could see more clearly what God is. It is an overwhelming discovery that the One who walks the pages of the New Testament is God, in a form that we can understand. We humans rarely see the world as it is because of the tendency to paint the windows of our perceptions with personal desires and expectations. Pretty soon, we are doing business with the images that we have constructed and confusing them with reality. In contrast, as Jesus revealed himself and Andrew remained open to him, they made a remarkable connection.
As I understand evangelism, it is really gift giving. It is not high-pressure salesmanship or twisting somebody's arm, but more like one beggar telling another beggar where he has found bread. Andrew's very first reaction to having seen the heart of God in Jesus was to go share this discovery with his brother, Simon Peter. He told him, "We have found the Messiah" (John 1:41). This first act of passing on what he found meaningful and of value gives us insight into his nature. It was a sign of Andrew's great maturity and emotional health. He was living out what it means to be made in the image of God. Authentic goodness is self-diffusive, meaning that when something good happens, you want to share it rather than keep it for yourself. My most vivid memory of wanting to share good news with everyone occurred in August 1945, when word came that the Japanese had surrendered and World War II was finally over. I was at a family reunion in Mississippi, and we all got in cars to drive around town, honk our horns, and share the jubilation as the church bells rang. Sharing our joy made the occasion even more thrilling.
There's a saying often repeated in Twelve-Step programs—we are as sick as our secrets and as healthy as our sharing. The things that we keep inside, where no one can see and no light can shine, are the things that can make us ill in many ways. We need to acknowledge problems in order to find solutions, and the things we are willing to share can be healed through the light of exposure. There is a generosity in sharing that continues to bless. As soon as Andrew experienced what he had found in Jesus, he was eager to share it with his brother. Andrew knew that Simon Peter was more dynamic, more outgoing, and more of a leader than he was. He had probably spent his whole life being introduced as Simon Peter's younger brother, the one who always played second fiddle. Andrew could have been possessive of his relationship with Jesus, as a way of being special, but he was not that kind of person. He was bound to have known that if he told his brother the amazing news of Jesus, Simon Peter would join in, become closer to Jesus than Andrew, and become a leader of the group. This would mean that Andrew's place in that company of Jesus' followers would be diminished because Simon Peter simply had a more dominant personality, but that did not deter him from sharing his secret.
Simon Peter was more flawed and complicated than Andrew, a classic twice-born personality in William James's typology. Yet, very soon after the group of the twelve was formed, Simon Peter did become a leader and one of Jesus' three closest confidants, along with James and John. Andrew had been the first apostle to follow Jesus, but was not recorded as ever being first in anything else. The beautiful thing is that he did not seem resentful or bothered by that at all. He must have had the kind of self-acceptance that trusted he was a gift of God exactly as he was, and that freed him to accept others just as they were. He did not live his life trying to outdo Simon Peter or anyone else, but was content to take gratefully what he had been given from the hand of God, without envy of what others had been given. The experience of envy is a sign of insecurity. If we are secure in our own uniqueness and can think of ourselves as blessed by God exactly as we are, then we can celebrate freely the gifts of others. Our lives are each a matchless gift from God, with different limits and special qualities that are all expressions of his love.
I have referred often to a crucial moment in my own spiritual development when I was about thirty-four years old. I went to a Kiwanis Club in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, to hear a personnel manager of a large national firm speak about his philosophy of management. The most memorable thing that he said was that, when new recruits joined his team, the first thing he wanted to determine about them was whether they were intent on being something, or doing something. He said:
People who are intent on being something don't have their ego needs met, so they are always trying to use the job to promote themselves. At one level, they might want to do what needs to be done to solve a problem but, at a deeper level, they are more concerned about how they can use occasions to come out ahead and advance up the career ladder. People like that are not likely to take risks or make sacrifices, so they are a real liability to any company. The higher they go, the more costly their decisions become, in their own self-interest, and the worse it is for the whole enterprise. My task is to identify and weed out those people as quickly as I can. In contrast, the people who want to do something are more secure and self-confident. They believe that the way that they are is good, and they don't try to use their job to enhance their status. When a problem arises, they simply ask what needs to be done and are willing to do it without worrying about getting the credit. They have the kind of judgment that the company needs at the highest levels.
I had never heard that distinction before, and I confess to you that this speaker held up a mirror to my own condition. As I heard those two types of personality described, I realized in ways I could not deny that, all my life, I had been trying to be something because of a crippling sense that I was not good enough as I was. I was trying to get something from outside of myself that would make me feel better on the inside. It was a startling insight that I had been so busy trying to get something from my work for myself that I did not give myself unreservedly to any task. This realization broke new ground and prepared me for what happened next.
At a private meeting of fellow clergy a few weeks later, someone said to me, "John, if you and I could ever hear the Gospel deep in our gut, we could fully believe the astonishing affirmation: 'You are the light of the world.' Jesus did not say that you have to be number one to get light, or out-achieve everybody else to earn light. He said that, by the grace of God's creation, you are the light of the world. If we could ever feel that truth in the depth of our souls, then we could truly let our light shine. We could give freely what has been given to us and know that the glory belongs rightly to the God who created us all." That was a pivotal, life-changing moment for me, as I comprehended that I was already the light of the world, not by virtue of what I had made of myself, but because of what God had made of me. I did not have to compete, compare, or try to do better than everybody else, but could simply give of myself, out of the grace of my own creation.
I believe that Andrew possessed genuine spiritual maturity and self-acceptance. He would have been high on the list of the personnel manager in Louisville, because he was more intent on what he needed to do than on what he would be. He was willing to take the amazing news about Jesus and share it with Simon Peter, in spite of knowing that doing so would mean that he would be elbowed out of the limelight. He was secure enough to remain in the background with more concern for the common good than for his own welfare alone. That is a high and worthy goal for every one of us, and it is within reach when we trust that we are the light of the world. We are what we are by the grace of God, and we do what we do out of what we have been given, not what we have earned through our own efforts.
The next time we see Andrew, he was with Jesus and the other disciples in a wilderness area when they came upon a huge group of people. Jesus began to teach them and heal those who needed healing. As the day wore on and the sun began to set, restlessness moved through this crowd of more than five thousand. The disciples became anxious and as much as said to Jesus, "Don't you think we ought to dismiss this group? They are getting hungry and people get unruly when they don't have enough food. We might have a riot on our hands. Let's disburse this crowd and send them to the nearest villages to get something to eat." I can easily understand why the disciples would have fears about this crowd because the evangelists recorded that there were five thousand men there, not counting the women and the children. In spite of this huge number of people, Jesus told his disciples, "You give them something to eat." He calmly approached the whole situation by asking, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." Well, feeding this enormous mass of people was something the disciples had not even considered. They were focused on the problem of scarcity, and it had never occurred to them that there might be resources available within the present situation.
Excerpted from The First to Follow by John R. Claypool, Ann Wilkinson Claypool. Copyright © 2008 John R. Claypool. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Andrew, The First Disciple
Simon Peter, A Man of Extremes
Philip, The Careful Realist
Nathanael, Without Deceit
Thomas, A Truth Seeker
Simon and Matthew, Unlikely Companions
Thaddaeus, Three Names and One Question
Judas, The Traitor
James and James, The Greater and Lesser
John, The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved