“To live is to take risks. It is absolutely central. Courage and risk are essential to aliveness. And aliveness is the thing that we all strive for and long for, yet sometimes barricade ourselves against out of fear … even as we are still longing for it. If we are not taking risks, it is for the same reason that people do take risks, namely, we want to be alive. We all want the same thing. I’m reminded of an elderly man who lives in a house with a steep wheelchair ramp leading down to the street. There is always a lot of traffic on his street and every morning my friend sees him going full speed down the ramp in his wheelchair. One day she asked him, “Isn’t this dangerous?” And he said with sparks in his eyes, laughing, “Yesss, it is!”
When I read this quote yesterday, I was reminded of the story of the calling of the disciples in Matthew 4 (which happened to be the lectionary text yesterday for those lectionary church-going types), where Jesus says “come follow me” and Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John just leave their nets and their fathers, their livelihoods and their communities and follow Jesus. Not only do they follow him, but Matthew tells us that immediately they left their nets and followed him.
In Luke’s version of this story, Jesus first goes out into the boat with Simon and tells Simon to put his nets over. Even though he hasn’t caught anything all night, Simon does as Jesus says and the nets come back up full of fish–so full he has to call James and John to come help him. They are amazed and praise Jesus and then when they get back to the shore they leave everything and follow Jesus.
Although the fishermen in Luke’s story have a little more reason to follow Jesus–perhaps because they are convinced of his power or at least assured that their families will be ok without them now that they have this huge haul of fish to eat and sell–the first disciples in Matthew’s story just go. Jesus calls and they go. Jesus doesn’t tell them anything about himself or where they’re going or what they’re going to do when they get there. But they leave everything and follow him. They risk their security, their family relationships, their lives, to follow the one who goes on to preach a sermon in which he says that it’s not the powerful warriors who are blessed, but the meek, the poor, the brokenhearted. They are the ones who find most favor with God.
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John take a huge risk. Leaving all they knew was a risk, following a man who eventually gets executed for his preaching is a risk. It’s all a risk. But they do it. They’re called to it. And we are called to nothing less. Doing a YAV year is a risk in some big and some small ways–we risk loneliness, financial insecurity, feeling inadequate and unprepared, discomfort. But we also risk stumbling our way into new and enriching relationships and challenging and joyful experiences that left their mark on our lives forever. So what will we risk this year?