Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew, one of the disciples of Jesus. I think of him as a background disciple--he doesn't get a starring role in many of the stories in the Gospels. Still, I could argue that this background disciple is more important than some of the more foreground disciples. What can we learn from the life of this saint?
It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t even know about Simon Peter, one of the most famous disciples, if not for Andrew. Andrew followed John the Baptist, and John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the true Messiah. Andrew believed, and Andrew brought his brother to see what he had seen. Andrew is remembered as the first disciple.
He doesn't stop with his brother--he brings all of his family members into the fold. It's important to remember that these were the early days of the ministry of Jesus, when Jesus might have seemed like just another wack-a-do preacher--the villages of first century Rome were full of such types. Yet Andrew believed and helped others to see what he saw.
What 21st century movements need our belief and our energy?
I also think about the sibling relationships here. What does Andrew think about Simon Peter, who quickly moves into the spotlight? Is Andrew content to stay in the background?
We know from the passage in Matthew that begins with Matthew 20:20, that there is competition to be Christ’s favorite. We see the mother of James and John who argues for her sons’ importance. We see the other disciples who become angry at the actions of this mother. I extrapolate to imagine that there’s much jockeying for position amongst the disciples.
Christ never loses an opportunity to remind us that he’s come to give us a different model of success. Again and again, he dismisses the importance that the world attaches to riches, to status, to a good reputation. Again and again, Jesus instructs us that the last will be first. Jesus tells us that the way to gain prestige with God is to serve.
Most of us live in a world where the idea of serving others is disparaged. We live in a world that needs more of our service. We have a lot to learn from Andrew.
By working in the background, by serving, Andrew helps make manifest one of the most famous miracles. In John’s Gospel, Andrew is the one who tells Jesus about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish, and thus helps make possible the miraculous feeding. If you ask people about the miracles of Jesus, this stretching of food is one that they are likely to remember. Very few miracle stories are found in more than one Gospel. The feeding of the crowd makes it into several.
Andrew was the kind of disciple we could use more of in this world. Even if we don't believe in the mission of the church, many of us are engaged in activities that need a kind of discipleship: we teach, we create, we parent, we care for a wide variety of people.
On this day when we celebrate the life of the first disciple, let us consider our own discipleship. Are we focused on the right tasks or are we hoping that our activities bring us glory? How can we help usher in the miracles that our world needs? Who needs to hear the good news as only we can tell it?
As we consider the larger world, we might also think about the efforts of those first disciples. Today marks the beginning of climate talks in Paris--will any headway be made? Tomorrow is World AIDS Day and the anniversary of Rosa Parks' refusal to move from her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955. Both are good occasions to consider how far we've come--and how far we still have to go.
Our world faces a variety of struggles for freedom, and we may not have much guidance from our leaders. The life of Andrew and the rest of the disciples shows how much we can do if we have a small but dedicated group of people by our side. Today is a good day to think about who those people are for each of us and how we can care for those relationships as we care for the larger world.