Proverbs 4: 1-5; Mark 1:16-20
James and his brother John were called by Jesus to become fishers of men. They were part of the inner circle of disciples. They were faithful ones who along with Peter, accompanied Jesus all the way to transfiguration and the crucifixion.
John, the beloved disciple, is considered to be writer of the fourth gospel. James was the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred for his faith by Herod Agrippa about 44 AD. There is a lot more we could say about James and John. But today I want to simply focus that they were the sons of Zebedee.
“As Jesus went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”
We know a lot about James and John. But who was Zebedee, and why does Mark bother to say anything at all about him? What’s important about him? Maybe some of those who heard the gospel story told by Mark and Matthew, Luke and John might have known Zebedee. Maybe they bought their fish from him. Maybe he was a member of their synagogue? Was he related by marriage to them?
On November 11, 1963 a man died in Homestead, PA. His name was Michael J Ader, Sr., my father. Obviously no one in Broad Brook ever met him. You know him only through his son, me. Maybe you know him better than you think because my Dad has made for some pretty good sermon illustrations over the years.
He wasn’t famous. He had his friends. He worked hard all his life, and in his own way he made the world a better place. I am proud to be his son. You see, here in Broad Brook Michael J Ader Sr. is just the father of Michael Jr. …but back home in Homestead, I would be the son of Michael Sr. And in our town that meant something.
Zebedee. In Hebrew tradition, a person was known as “the son of one’s father.” James and John were the sons of Zebedee. James bar Zebedee. John bar Zebedee. One’s last name was the name of one’s father. I would be Michael bar Ader. Today in our European tradition, I would still bear my father’s name and I would be Michael Aderson. Following naming customs like these, reminded people of their family origins.
I wonder if James and John looked like Zebedee. I wonder if they talked like Zebedee? I wonder if they walked like him, shook hands like him, laughed like him? While Zebedee was teaching his sons to mend the fishing nets, what else did he teach them? Did he tell them about how a man should love and honor a woman? Did he them about using money? Did he ever talk with them about God?
Jesus Christ called them away from their father and his life’s work. When Jesus called, Mark says they immediately dropped their nets and followed him. But the lives of James and John had already been shaped by the life of Zebedee, just as my life has been shaped by my father, and your life has been shaped by your father.
Not everyone has had a loving father. Was Zebedee a loving father? I don’t know.
No father is perfect. Zebedee was a just a man, with all of limitations that go along
with being human. Our fathers’ included.
Michael Sr. had his share of problems in life. He had a horrible childhood.
He was the eldest of seven, his father died after complication in a steel mill accident when he was nine. He quit school to support the family, which included sending his youngest brother to college. When he began his own family during wartime, it became my father’s purpose in life to create the family he never had, to provide for his children and to create the kind of dream for them he never had. Yours probably was as well
Most of the time he did a pretty good job. And when we gathered at his death bed forty-nine years ago, we said by being there at his side in one way or another, that he had succeeded in his mission.
As you sit here today, think of your own father. I hope you knew him. I hope you loved him. I hope he was a good father, as mine was. But even if you didn’t know your father, even if you didn’t love your father, your father still helped to make you, negatively or positively, the man or woman you are today. Some people spend years in therapy trying to figure out whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
But good or bad, it is true whether it be for James, John and Zebedee; Jesus and Joseph; or your father and you. There is a bond between father and child that nothing can break, not even death. And the process of grief can even makes that bond even stronger.
Kent Nerburn has written in, Letters to My Son:
None of us can escape this shadow of the father, even if that shadow fills us with fear, even if it has no name or face. To be worthy of that man, to prove something to that man, to exorcise the memory of that man from every corner of our life – however it affects us, the shadow of that man cannot be denied…we all labor under the shadow. It makes us who we are and shapes the [person] we hope to be.
Those of you who have become fathers understand the power of that shadow from the other side. Your every touch shapes that child, for better or for worse, for lifetime.
No one knows which touches have meaning? A word here, a glance there, a time together or apart. No one knows which moments will shape the child’s memory that looks on all we do and say today?
Realize the strength of the bond that exists between father and son. Realize that the things that have happened in our families, and are happening in them right now are imprinting the next generation with an understanding about life. That will shape the future for better or for worse.
My father’s death helped me understand my role in my family. I am thankful that years ago, I was able forgive him for the pain his severe disciplinary style caused me. I was able to see my father as a man who loved and needed love. I found the courage to speak words of love to him, and to realize how deeply he loved me. I am lucky. My words were said a few days before he died. I stood by his bed in the hospital and I said, “I love you, and I’ll miss you.” That was all.
It is never too late to make amends if we have wronged. It is never too late to forgive those who have wronged us. It is never too late to say “I love you” to another, or to listen to another say “I love you” to us. Whether you are a father, or a son, a mother or a daughter, it is never too late to touch and be touched by those with whom our lives in are forever inextricably bound.
James and John were disciples of Christ, but they were forever the sons of their fathers. The lives they chose when they dropped their nets and followed Jesus Christ took them far from their places and people of origin. But deep down, they were still the sons of Zebedee.
That’s the way God made us. God wants us nourish the relationships that bind us one to another. In the days ahead, find ways to speak words of love to your children and your parents.
May God bless us all. Happy Father’s Day.