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Spiritual Reflection – St Andrew’s Day (Celebrated 22 November)

Spiritual Reflection – Follow Me 

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. —Matthew 4:18–20 

The gospel accounts of Jesus recruiting his first disciples are remarkable in their particularity. They provide geographical details of the story’s seaside setting as well as the names of those hardy fishermen he recruits—two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, followed by James and John. The story line is simple enough. Jesus says to the brothers “Follow me,” and they respond immediately and do precisely that: they follow him. 

As simple as this story is, I think it raises a couple of fundamental questions: Who is Jesus? And what does he want? To gain a fresh perspective on such matters, let us think musically. 

Music has long been regarded as the language of the soul. It plays a part in the liturgy and worship of all the world’s religions. Stanford University music professor William Mahrt believes music “opens a space” for us to experience God, both during a performance and in the silence immediately afterwards. 

We probably all have experienced something of this—music as an aid to prayer and worship. But how does music help us answer the question, who is Jesus?

Think for a moment about some dedicated performers, singers or instrumentalists, who give their all to bring a piece of music to life. They invest in their performance the sum total of who they are; their whole being is saturated with the music they are performing. In this musical metaphor, the composition is God and the performer is Jesus Christ. Jesus performs God so perfectly that we perceive in Jesus the very essence of our loving Creator. 

This is what we mean by the incarnation. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Roman Williams, in his brilliant little book Tokens of Trust (2007), describes the life of Jesus as a flawless performance of God for our benefit, making God present for us in flesh and blood. “If we look at great musicians,” Williams writes, “we see both the intensity of the struggle and the strength of the joy that goes with it. … In the fullness of their skill and their joy, another is made present. So with Jesus; this is a human life and a human will whose power and joy is the performance of who God is and what God wants.”

If music helps us understand the identity of Jesus, so too it helps us understand what Jesus wants. “And he said to them, ‘Follow me.’” As Jesus performs the music of his heavenly Father, making that divine music audible and visible to us, he invites us to join in the performance. It is as if Jesus hands us a book of hymns and asks us join him in their singing. As members of the ensemble of Jesus, we each bring our own particular voice, be it soprano, alto, tenor, or bass, and even more—first and second soprano, coloratura, countertenor, basso profondo. We do not lose our individual voice, our unique particularity, in the singing; indeed, by joining this extraordinary choir we realise fully our own distinct individuality. Just as the first disciples remained unique individuals—Peter and Andrew, James and John—so, too, do we retain the unique tone and timbre and quality of our voices as we join the ensemble. 

As we follow the music Jesus provides, we are asked to give ourselves so fully to its performance that we become one with the music. This is another great paradox and mystery of discipleship: we fulfil our individuality even as we meld our identity with something far greater than ourselves. The music of Jesus is a call to an intimacy with God that is exceedingly difficult for us to understand. We are to follow so closely that the gap between us and Jesus closes entirely. Christ prays on our behalf, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” The apostle Paul identifies this as “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages … which is Christ in you.”

James J. Rawls. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2018. eBook location 1284.

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