Tag Archives: Zebedee

7 February: Zebedee, Part III

Mrs Turnstone’s two little fish from Aberdaron, Wales. Reminding us of a pilgrimage.

Sister Johanna concludes her reflection on Zebedee. Thank you Sister!

For two days, we have been considering the call of James and John through the eyes of Zebedee, their father. If you are just joining us today, it’s advisable that you scroll back two days to see how we’ve arrived here. Today we’ll begin our reflection with the silence of Zebedee, as he acquiesces to what Jesus has just done. This is what Mark seems to wonder at, I believe – the text suggests this to me. If the evangelists had gone in for textual emphasis, then maybe the words, LEAVING THEIR FATHER ZEBEDEE WITH THE MEN HE EMPLOYED IN THE BOAT would have looked something like that, with everything else in lower case lettering. And I wonder at this, too: Zebedee himself was not asked by Jesus to follow him. Only his sons were asked. Zebedee, in fact, wasn’t asked anything – he was not even acknowledged by Jesus, and James and John didn’t even say good-bye. They all acted as though Zebedee wasn’t there. What does Zebedee think? How does he feel? He doesn’t say. He is silent.

But maybe this silence itself says something. Maybe Zebedee is silently saying, “I will not interfere with my sons’ relationship to Jesus”. This is remarkable because his non-interference involves the loss of something extremely precious to him – his sons. Their presence. Their help, Their daily expressions of filial love. But Zebedee doesn’t interfere,

either now or later. Whatever in Zebedee’s silence that could have been attributed to shock does not change once Zebedee gets over it. There is no record of Zebedee turning up at Jesus’ camp later and saying, “Hey! I want my sons back!” Zebedee’s acceptance of this strange turn of events is total.

Where does this reflection on Zebedee leave me? I suppose it leaves me with the recognition that sometimes Jesus’ actions toward those we love are unfathomable and leave us in a state of incredulity. We see that Jesus is requiring something of someone we love, and we see them responding. Maybe it looks crazy to us – looks contrary to all that they’ve been prepared for and to everything we expected of them. And, worse, maybe we’re required to give them up now, or change our relationship in a way that hurts us. What will we do? How will we manage? Nor do we understand Jesus’ actions – actions which leave us with a lot of very good questions, and no answers. We simply don’t understand what is going on or why.

How would I react if I were Zebedee? How am I reacting now to the unfathomable aspects of Jesus’ actions toward those I love? He’s not asking me for my opinion; he doesn’t seem to be taking me into account at all. Could I, can I be as silent and trusting as Zebedee? Could I do this long-term? Perhaps Zebedee is one of the New Testament’s greatest saints.

Knowing when not to interfere … that’s wisdom!

Here’s another look – or looks – at this story from the Visual Commentary on Scripture, ‘Fishing for People.‘ VCS is a free series of reflections through works of art.

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6 February: Zebedee, Part II

Mark Rogers’ statue of a fisherman in Mallaig harbour, Scotland

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Zebedee the fisherman of Galilee.

We are looking at a few words from Mark’s Gospel – 9:19-20. I recommend that you scroll to yesterday’s post to catch up, if you’ve just joined the blog. We’re looking mainly at Zebedee, the father of James and John, and I want to start with Jesus’ boldness. Jesus, in this passage, acts like the God he is. He simply summons James and John. He does not ask Zebedee’s permission to take his sons away from the family business, the family home or the paternal expectations. James and John were God’s before they were Zebedee’s. Jesus takes what belongs to him as the Son of God. It is a moment when Jesus acts with breathtaking divine authority.

Zebedee, presumably, was not a push-over; if he fit the description I offered yesterday, he would not have been hesitant to tell Jesus what he thought. Indeed, something in me wants to speak for Zebedee and say to Jesus, “Wait! Stop! What’s going on? ” But then I think, No: I don’t want to say that and I don’t want Zebedee to say that. I know Jesus. I know that he is the Son of God and as such his call takes precedence over all other obligations – even obligations to family, as Jesus himself makes clear at other times (cf. Luke 9:59-62).

Did Zebedee know Jesus in this way, too? Although, there is reason to believe that James and John were cousins of Jesus, and that Jesus was probably not a stranger to Zebedee or the rest of the family, the fact that Zebedee is completely silent when his two employee-sons are suddenly recruited by Jesus is reason for some amazement. No matter what they already knew of Jesus, they did not know what we know – their immediate and total response to Jesus’ command to follow him cannot be attributed to some miraculous foreknowledge that he was the messiah. This was not grasped rightly by any of Jesus’ followers during his lifetime. This makes the response of James and John, and in a different way of Zebedee, all the more astonishing. Perhaps this astonishment is a good place to pause again for twenty-four hours. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for the final reflection.

SJC

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5 February: Zebedee, Part I.

Traditional Northumbrian Coble fishing boat, by Nigel Coates.

Sister Johanna has been giving her thought to Zebedee, a strong silent man of the Gospels, whose sons and later his wife, left all to follow Jesus.

Jesus saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John: they were in their boats mending the nets. At once he called them and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him (cf. Mark 1:19-20. Translation: New Jerusalem Bible).

It’s not often we find editorial comment or attitude in the Gospels. Usually the evangelists simply tell their story and leave us to do the commentary and feel the emotion. But these few lines from the Gospel of Mark seem full of Saint Mark’s feeling – indeed, his incredulity. I think it comes across in line 20 where he says, ‘leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed…’. In these words seem to hear Mark marvelling not only over the response of James and John to Jesus’ call, but also over Zebedee’s reaction to the sudden defection of his sons from everything that Zebedee had prepared them for.

I know something about fishermen. My own father was one, not by profession but by preference: he loved nothing more than to be on a boat with a line in the water, hauling in fish by the dozen. His fishermen friends all tended to be like him: no nonsense men, hard working, a bit earthy, rather outspoken in their opinions, tough-spirited tough-guys with soft hearts. I imagine Zebedee was like that – only perhaps more care-worn than my dad and his cronies, who all fished for recreation, and earned their livelihood elsewhere. For Zebedee, fishing was his way of supporting his family. It was important and it was work, with all the strains and stress work involves. Surely Zebedee expected his sons to do their share, and probably take over the business one day when he was no longer able. He must have been doing pretty well: he had a few employees. But, as we know, to do well in any business takes a lot of hard work, combined with a lot of shrewdness.

Zebedee. For the first time as I reread the passage today, I had a sense of the man. Now, I see him on a specific day, the day his sons leave. This had probably been an ordinary day. Now they were doing their routine net-mending and stowing things away; it was time to stop work; they were weary and ready for a good meal. And suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, Jesus turns up, calls to James and John, and without uttering a syllable, they go off after him. Zebedee, meanwhile, sits in the boat, torn net in his hands, staring after them open-mouthed. The employees all stop their banter, look up from their nets, exchange surprised glances with each other and quickly attend to their net-mending again with a degree of intensity not usually needed for this particular task. Zebedee says not a word about what has just happened. Not now. Not ever, it seems.

I’d like to leave us with that picture of Zebedee for a day and return to our reflection tomorrow.

SJC


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