Words for the weekend ‘let us sit on your right and your left’
It was only two days ago that I saw ‘Jesus calling James and John’ painted by the anonymous Master of Louringha. I still don’t know where it is housed though I guess that it is in a church in Portugal. It was painted early in the 16th century. It belongs to a time when the world was changing – the point when the middle ages are coming to an end and the modern world has not quite wakened. The figures are truly flesh and blood but the landscape still has a touch of magic.
We are looking at the moment when Jesus has called the two brothers from their commerce to follow him. Behind them we see the world that they will be leaving behind as their friend Andrew saw it and heard the same call ‘by the Galilean lake’ where he ‘turned from home and toil and kindred – leaving all for his dear sake.’
The portrayal of Jesus is beautiful abut it is impossible to read: What was he thinking a s he called these eager young men? Did he already know the terrible journey he was going to take them on? All three have their staffs in their hands. Jesus has already said yes to his destiny. James and John have been caught by a magnet so strong that they are about to abandon all their security for a son of man who has nowhere to lay his head.
As I look at this painting I see excitement in the colour of the clothing and in the complexion and movement of the young mem. But the landscape looks cold a bleak and Jesus robe though rich is significantly blue. I am led to think of the words of another song. ‘There may be troubles ahead…’
For three years Jesus led his disciples through good times and bad times, through popular acclaim and violent opposition and among all his followers three stand out as special – Peter, James and John. We are never told why they are special but they are mentioned more often than any other individuals. Perhaps they stand out because they are the disciples that Jesus rebukes on several occasions. Peter we heard of in last week’s Gospel. This week it is the turn of James and John.
In the Gospel they make the request of Jesus. When you come into power may we have special seats one on your right and one on your left? As it stands and as Jesus answers them it looks once more like the disciples mistaking the meaning of the kingdom of God. They are hoping for favours, for position, they want to be special. It is easy to imagine that Jesus is angry with them or that his patience is wearing thin. But when I look at the painting I think that another interpretation is possibly.
Right at the beginning of his ministry, from the moment he called them Jesus must have known that there may be troubles ahead You don’t need to be omniscient to realise that to be called messiah is likely to get you into trouble, to be a prophet is dangerous, while to call yourself Son of God… Nevertheless he called and they followed.
Now their foolish request reminds him of what he is leading them into – you will indeed drink of my cup. Surely it is anxiety and love that calls forth his response Are you able? Soon he will request that the cup might pass and he will get the answer. He would not wish this on them.
He can’t give them power and glory. He can only confirm that they will share his cup and in all their folly, in all their ignorance they affirm with a glad heart We are able.
My brothers and sisters Jesus has called each of us to follow him. We are on that road where Peter and Andrew, James and John followed the master. as they followed him they encountered many troubles but they all knew the joy of being obedient, of doing his will and following his example. They encounter trouble and danger but they knew love, joy and peace. As we follow there may be trouble ahead. We don’t know what we will have to face –standing up for justice, helping the poor comforting those in trouble but also living the joy of the Christian life, bringing up children, faithfulness in marriage and other friendships worship prayer and study. As well as life’s wild restless sea the Christian life has been compared to a dance: I danced for the fishermen, James and John – they followed me and the dance went on.
Indeed brothers and sisters there may be trouble ahead but like good fisher folk let’s face the music and DANCE!