Discipleship on a need-to-know basis

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.  (Matthew 9:9)

Several years ago when my brother and I were training to become river guides, an old veteran river runner offered us this sage observation:  “You have to be a little crazy to do this job.”  To that, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would add: “And lacking certain essential information.”

An angel fills Matthew in on what he “needs to know”

In the literature of “The Call,” Matthew’s is one of the most terse invitations to discipleship.  Now, maybe the author didn’t want to steal thunder from the Son of Man by going into overmuch detail about how he got hired.  Or maybe the invitation (or the inviter) was just that compelling; there really was no way to resist.  As always, I suspect we don’t have the entire story at our disposal.  Filling in the blanks, I suspect that Jesus identified in Matthew a guy who was “a little crazy,” the kind of guy who would ditch a perfectly lucrative career, blissfully unaware of just what essential information he didn’t have.

If I’d known about the black flies that infest the banks of the White River every June, would I have signed up to be a river guide?  If I’d known about how Mee Canyon regularly tops out at about 110 degrees in July, would I have signed up to be a river guide?  If I’d known how difficult it is to fish a submerged canoe out of water running 17,000 cfs*[i], would I have signed up to become a river guide?   

The short answer is: Hell, no.  Which is why I’m glad I didn’t have all the facts when I signed on.  Because guiding is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, partly because I would have thought that any one of the aforementioned scenarios would kill me or, at the very least, make me insufferably bitchy.  Facing them has taught me a lot about my relationship with the Divine (“God is my stern paddler[ii]), about the importance of asking for  – and accepting – help from people, and the camaraderie that arises out of intense, shared experiences.

Would Matthew have signed on with Jesus if he’d known that his teacher was bound for crucifixion?  Would he have signed on if he’d known he’d spend the end of his life a world away from the land of his birth[iii]?  Would he have signed on if he’d known he’d have to write a book about it?[iv]

My guess is, maybe not.  Good thing that the God who makes the blind see and opens the door to those who knock also knows when a “need-to-know” basis is required for discipleship.    


[i] Cubic Feet per Second, the standard measurement for river flow levels.  On the river where this particular dump happened, 17,000 cfs comes out to about 35 miles an hour.  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  It was probably more like 5 miles an hour.  But still, try pulling up behind someone at a stoplight at 5 mph someday and imagine how it would feel to lose your brakes at that moment.  Suddenly, 5 mph seems like terminal velocity.

[ii] By which, I mean that God is my captain, steering our course from the back of the boat – which, in nautical parlance, is called the “stern.”  This is not intended to be an oblique reference to the God of Zephaniah, who, by most accounts, was a pretty crabby character.

[iii] There aren’t any authoritative sources on exactly how or where Matthew died, but according to newadvent.org, most of the unauthoritative sources say he wound up in Ethiopia.  Or maybe Persia.  Big diff.  Unless, of course, you’re Ethiopian or Persian.

[iv] The Gospel of Matthew.  I’ve never been crucified, but as a published author/editor of two books, I’m here to tell you, writing a book ain’t no frickin’ picnic, either. 

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


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