Mark 1:16-20 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
It’s Father’s Day and we’re going through Mark, so I thought it might be a good idea to combine the two and rewind back to the beginning to draw some thoughts on fatherhood in a moment.
Josh is not quite yet 5 but even so I am starting to sense that already, the hardest part of being a parent is knowing that one day, I will have to let him go. Even though we’re only 5 years in, I already wish that this reality had occurred to me sooner than it did. I may have spent more energy investing in him and less energy being annoyed at him when doing things that made a mess or whatever. You never know how long you’ve got until Jesus takes people from your life. There’s at least one dad here today that is learning that reality in the starkest terms possible.
- A good father knows when to let his children go.
So, we read in Mark 1, Jesus turns up and he immediately starts calling disciples. Hallelujah, great news. But there’s always a cost. He sees Simon and Andrew, we know Simon at least is not just a fisherman but a husband and, in that culture, very likely also a father. When he chooses to follow Jesus he’s got to know somewhere in the back of his mind that this is going to cost him. Sure, they visit home occasionally but by and large, he’s not going to be seeing much of his wife that much over the coming years. So, at the very least he’s giving up aspirations of fatherhood.
So, we’ve got at least one guy who is giving up family for a certain amount of time, then the story moves on and Jesus call out to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. What do they do when they hear Jesus’ call? They immediately follow Jesus. Then we get this almost insignificant verse containing an ocean of emotion: 20 Without delay he (Jesus) called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
When Zebedee woke up that morning, another days, fishing just like the one before, and the one before that, doing the family business alongside his boys, do you reckon he was expecting that before the sun set that day, he’d be watching them walk off into distance into a new and different life without him?
I think in that moment, Zebedee is experiencing the deepest truth of fatherhood, if fact, parenthood, which is to be left behind. One day, Josh is going to be bigger, faster, smarter and better at stuff than me and my calling will be to celebrate that. But more than this, one day, I’ll need to trust Jesus with his journey. One day I’ll have to watch him walk away with no guarantees but simple faith that Jesus knows what he’s doing with his life. The real test of faith for Zebedee is not ‘getting out of the boat’ but in fact staying in it.
Somehow, Zebedee knows that this is right. For some reason he doesn’t run after them. Somewhere in the backdrop of this story is one man’s great faith in the sovereignty and providence of God and his timing. Fatherhood is trusting God’s timing in the lives of others.
- The moment of letting go.
Dear church, I want to be brave this morning. Henri Nouwen, referring to Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son summarized the Christian life by how we come to God as the prodigal, struggle with the temptation to be the elder and eventually grow into the role of the Father, embracing the broken around us.
There’s something going on in the way Mark structures his gospel. Why does he bother to mention, Zebedee back in the boat? I think Mark is saying that, in order to put this world right again after the fall, it’s going to take a level of sacrifice that can only be understood in the context of parenthood. (I also include in this those who do and have ached to be parents but whom have perhaps had to relinquish hope.)
When Zebedee stands there, watching his sons leave, he’s is experiencing on some minute level, the infinite emotional burden it must have been for God the Father to allow Jesus to descend to heaven to die on our behalf. I don’t want to push the analogy any further than that lest we disrespect the mystery of the incarnation, but can you imagine what it must have been like for the triune God, perfectly united in all eternity past in the ‘family business’ of relationship and creation, to at the same time know, that there would come a day when the Son, would have to walk past a different horizon for our sake.
- There’s no fruit in the lives of those we invest in if we never know when to let go.
Sometimes when all you’ve heard all your life is sermons on getting out of the boat, the greatest act of faith is knowing when not to. When all we want to do is be at the centre of God’s acts in the here and now, sometimes real spiritual maturity, dare I say, spiritual fatherhood, is stepping back into a more behind the scenes, support role.
Sometimes becoming a spiritual mother or father to the next generation, is to stand there watching Jesus take them on a new journey and having the faith and willingness to let them go. Let them go. Behind every fruitful Christian life, is a Zebedee cheering them on, from a distance.
That’s why Zebedee gets a mention in the gospel. This is God’s word. God’s word has not forgotten Zebedee because God does not forget him. There are crowns in store for those who know when to step back as much as for those who step up. Crowns for those who release as much as for those who take responsibility. Crowns for Fathers and mothers, who feel left behind. God will not, he does not forget you.
Are you a dad? Or even a parent this morning feeling left behind? God sees you. Are you seeing fruit in your life? Give thanks for the person who knew when to let you go. Did you suffer under a tumultuous childhood? This one’s for you: this church is full of people who can help you journey to the place where you can believe that God is not calling you to control, enslave or abuse you but that we worship a saviour who longs to release you.
Dear Church, stand with Zebedee, know when to entrust them to Jesus, know when to let go. Know when to let them fulfill the mission in their way. Come to know God the Father.