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

What authority does Jesus have in my life?