A few years ago the preaching of Rob Bell popularized the work of Ray vander Laan; specifically his study on the educational system used in the time of Jesus. The gist of the teaching was that Jesus was an amazing Rabbi and that the disciples were all dropouts from school. The fact that the super-Rabbi chose the disciples made their leaving of the nets more understandable. Who could reject an offer like that?
By knowing some of the background of the text we can ‘understand’ the actions of the disciples better. In the second chapter of the book Bonhoeffer deconstructs the need to understand the background in order to make our following easier. He states that,
The call goes forth. And is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience? The story is a stumbling block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events. By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between them. Something must have happened in between. Some psychological or historical event. Thus we get the stupid question: “Surely the publican must have known Jesus before and that previous acquaintance explains his readiness to hear the Master’s call.” Unfortunately our text is ruthlessly silent on this point, and in fact it regards the immediate sequence of call-and-response as a matter of crucial importance. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reasons for a man’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause is behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ Himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.
For Bonhoeffer the call is followed by an act of obedience and not a confession of faith in Jesus. I find this helpful. Sometimes I feel God calling me to do something, I would prefer to make some confession of faith rather than act with my body. Singing or confessing is easier (which is an unnecessary dualism).
Obedient action is scary. I would rather stall and get some good reasons before I act. I think this is behind our consistent efforts to make the calling of the first disciples more understandable.
Bonhoeffer sees the calling of the disciples as evidence of “… the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call.”
A few years ago Ben Witherington wrote a fine post wherein he deconstructed vander Laan and Rob Bell’s interpretation of the Judaism in Jesus’ time. Meanwhile I wonder …
Is Jesus this kind of authority in my life?
“We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority.”
What authority does Jesus have in my life?