All of us have encountered the “classic” Scripture verses many times before – ones that are heard and read so much you know them from the first word – the kind that end up embroidered on pillows and written over pictures of wildflowers? This week, I encountered two such verses, but instead of skimming right past them, as I am apt to do because they are so familiar, something new caught my attention in them this week.
The first occurs in the Gospel accounts of Jesus calling the first disciples. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he calls to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come, follow me.” Immediately they drop their nets, leave their jobs, their families, their homes and travel around from village to town to city hanging on his every word and being amazed at Jesus’ miraculous deeds – all the while knowing that Jesus was special, but having to learn over time just how special he was and is.
That always seemed strange to me. I assumed that they had many encounters with Jesus before that aren’t mentioned in Scripture because…really...who in his right mind would leave behind everything on the spur of the moment for someone they didn’t know? Then I learned in a Bible class this week the significance of Jesus coming to them. At that time, children would learn the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) and have them memorized by age ten. Then most of them would be dismissed to learn a trade in the family business. The kids who showed real promise were permitted to continue their education where they would proceed to memorize the rest of what we call the Old Testament. When they were about fourteen or so, they were either dismissed to go into the family business or if the teacher thought a pupil had that something special – that he could carry God’s Word to the people, the young man was encouraged to seek a Rabbi.
Now in first century Israel, Rabbis were celebrities. They were the ones everyone wanted to be like and seen with. To be in with the Rabbi was the ultimate status symbol. The young man would apply to a Rabbi who would grill him mercilessly on his Scripture knowledge. If the Rabbi thought that this young man had what it took to learn from him and could eventually one day be like him, the Rabbi would invite the young man to “Follow me.” This was a rare honor.
Well, the first disciples were working in the family trade. They apparently didn’t have what it takes. They were the rejects and yet here was this Rabbi Jesus calling to them – “Come, follow me.” He was telling them that they had what it took to be like him. And Jesus tells us the same thing when he called us into relationship with him. He thinks we have what it takes to be like him and to faithfully carry on in his teachings. Jesus believes in me. That’s incredible! My Savior, the God of the Universe believes I can be like him! Wow!
The second encounter was in reading the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25. “A man is going on a journey and calls his servants together to entrust his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money (about $5,000), to another two talents (about $2,000), and to another one talent (about $1,000), each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:14-15, NIV) That’s where I’m stopping the story, though I encourage you to read the rest of it for yourself.
Here’s what made me stop: “…each according to his ability.” So often, I worry that I’m not doing enough especially when comparing myself to the super-Christians I read about or know in the church. Or I’m not doing “it” right. I talk myself into believing that I’m a failure and God deserves better. My self-doubt and the resulting low self-esteem make “I can’t” a more frequent part of my vocabulary than “I can.” God gave me gifts and talents according to the ability he knows I have. He created me and knows me best – he knows the fullness of my potential and he gives me gifts and talents in accordance with that potential. Again…God believes in me! Wow! He has faith in my ability because he put it there and patiently and gently guides me to discover it for myself and live into the potential he has gifted me for. God is not comparing me to Super Christian or to Rev. My-Life-Is-Not-My Own and I shouldn’t either. God knows me intimately and, knowing me, believes in my ability! Maybe I should too.