“Immediately they left their nets and followed him…” (Matthew 4:20)
I got the call to do a funeral last week.
I said, ‘Yes,’ for I always try to do what I can for such as this when possible.
It turns out, the one who had suddenly died was 47 years old. He was the owner/operator of a local towing company.
I was given the phone number of his fiancee and was told he had two grown children.
I went out to their home in the country where I met his mother, his children, his fiancee, a best friend, and a couple of dogs.
- I sat with them in their grief and shock.
- We talked through what they could expect at his funeral.
- I listened to them describe their child, their dad, their friend, their beloved.
- I worked with them on a list of who else would speak.
- A few days later when I arrived at the funeral home, though I was early — or so I thought — the cars were backed up onto the street, trying to get in to find a parking place.
I found my way inside where the main parlor was full to overflowing. People of all ages — many of them quite young — were standing in the lobby and they were still coming.
None of this was particularly surprising.
And so it was we prayed together, a number of people including his daughter shared some memories, I read scripture and reflected on what I knew of his life and spoke of God’s great love for him and for all of them. And together we made our way out into the cold.
I had been told that he would be carried via tow truck to the cemetery.
I had not been told what lay in store for our trip to the cemetery.
For there I was in the lead car with the funeral director. The tow truck carrying the casket with his fiancee and a couple of friends riding in the cab were right behind us. An endless line of cars and trucks were behind them. And we sat at the entrance to the funeral home watching and waiting as a procession of dozens of tow trucks drove by, leading the way on the highway that joins the two cities of DeKalb and Sycamore, past his place of business, and then back to the cemetery where he would be buried. (You can see a video of the procession below.)
It was impressive, yes. And I could not help but wonder at the call which led all these tow truck operators with their rigs old and new, impressive and ordinary, to show up — some from far distances — and to get in line. Indeed, what prompted them to mostly silently (or as silently as a big truck can be) and solemnly drive one after another after another with lights flashing to pay tribute to one of their own.
It was, I expect, a kind of call to duty. Certainly to kindness. And yes, to solidarity with one who also put himself in harm’s way again and again in order to help others. I have no way of knowing, for sure, of course. I was in the lead car behind that impressive display and they all turned off before we finally reached the cemetery, so there was really no one to ask.
In a world where many people don’t even show up for funerals any more and where often such gatherings are no longer even offered, again, this was impressive.
And yet. It was easy enough, I suppose, for many of them to answer this call for a morning or a day, tapping into their own perhaps very personal reasons for doing so.
Not at all, at least at first glance, like the ‘call’ Jesus extends today. But then again, maybe it is more like that call than not.
- For we only hear this morning about the first time Jesus called those four disciples.
- And in a way similar to how it was with all those tow truck drivers, you and I have no idea of the private and/or personal reasons which compelled Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their fishing nets (and families) behind that first day to take after Jesus. We only know that they did.
- I expect we can also presume that for them and for us as for more tow truck drivers than I could count the other day, the reasons for responding were as individual and as similar as they could be all at the same time.
And this as well.
- Dozens of tow truck drivers answered once.
- As did the disciples that first day when Jesus caught up with them on their fishing boats.
- And then, it turns out they heard that call again and again and again. Day after day, in small ways and large. And some days? They heard it and responded more clearly and competently than others. (Think Peter faltering on the water, the disciples wondering about Jesus talking with the woman at the well, or the inclination they had to send the hungry crowds away rather than feed them.)
And oh, isn’t this always so?
- We, too, hear the call and respond, hear the call and respond.
- Not only once but day by day by day. Sometimes more than once a day.
- On some days our responses are public and ceremonial.
- At other times we falter and fall.
- And at still other times, the ways in which we are called to respond are quiet and hardly noticed — except perhaps by the one whom you will pick up (perhaps not unlike a tow truck driver) and do what you can to get them where they need to go.
For the call is already laid out for us today. Along with Jesus. (Yes, along with dozens of tow truck drivers here in Northern Illinois.) You and I are called to go to those who need us most of all. As Jesus is today, you and I are also called to those who are stranded:
- Those who are stranded in their despair. Yes, those who are sick at heart, needing to hear the good news of the nearness of God’s Kingdom.
- And those whose lives have broken down in so very many other ways: especially now those suffering from disease or illness for whom we might just have the gifts of healing which we are called to share.
This is so. I saw the nearness of the Reign of God in a procession of tow truck drivers the other day.
For they answered the call then to be part of this public display of kindness and solidarity. And all of them? They answer a call single day and every single night. When the weather is good and when it is terrible. They respond to the call to help people get where they need to go next. Often putting themselves in harm’s way to do so.
Maybe our call to follow Jesus is also just as simple as that.
- In this Gospel reading, Jesus approaches the disciples on what was likely an otherwise ordinary day and invites them to leave behind what they have known for something unknown, untested, and uncertain. When have you experienced something like this? What has an otherwise ordinary day been interrupted by the invitation to something more for you?
- I am suggesting here that Jesus calls us again and again and again and it is ours to answer day after day after moment after moment after day. Does that make sense in your experience? How have you known this to be so?
- In my reflection here I am comparing the ‘call’ you and I answer to that of a tow truck driver. What other examples of people’s every day work help you think more deeply about your own ‘call?’