One of the joys of being Vicar of the country town of Midhurst was the chance to learn about its quirky history and especially all that went on in the little narrow streets near the parish church.
One of my favourite stories was the one about Matthew Burnett – the reclusive cycle repairman of Rumbold’s Hill.
He ran a little cycle shop in the basement of one of the old town houses back in the 1930’s – but so traumatised was he when there was a fire in the floors above his shop – he never ventured out of doors again.
The reclusive cycle shop owner of Rumbold’s Hill would sleep all day with the curtains tightly drawn around his strange little workshop and only when dusk fell would he put on a light to show he was open for business.
No one was ever allowed in the shop – you would just leave your bike by the door, he would work on it overnight and leave it for you to collect the following morning. Miss Benn from the library across the way would bring over an evening meal for Matthew. She would knock and leave it on the step and his hand would shoot out and he would pull the plate greedily indoors.
When he finally died and left the premises – there inside his tiny shop – was an array of brand new bicycles which no one had ever ridden.
The reclusive cycle repairman of Rumbold’s Hill, Midhurst’s local hermit – came to my mind as I was reading through the Gospel passage for today.
Here we have Jesus calling his first disciples – but he seems to be doing so in a somewhat scattergun sort of way. Strolling down by the harbour at Capernaum and selecting fishermen at random. I’ll take you and you and you and you.
And in an instant he decimates a local fishing business – by calling James and John the two sons of Zebedee and leaving their father in the boat – they go off and follow Jesus on the way, seemingly without question.
I feel sorry for is poor old Zebedee. He is well and truly left behind. Not called to follow. He is not even consulted about whether his boys can be spared from their work. He is just left speechless as the prospects for the family business are given a severe downturn – with the call of the saviour “Follow Me”.
Whilst his sons get up to all sorts of adventures, and as we shall see so does his wife, Zebedee, it appears, never gets out from his boat. Never ventures beyond the shores of Galilee, but rather stays reclusively, carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. Was Zebedee a bit stupid do you think? Was he a comic figure based on his Magic Roundabout namesake? Was he lazy? Was he jealous? Was he bemused? Was he so intent on his business matters that he did not notice his sons gone – or did he feel his calling was to stay put – whilst the others went galavanting.
We tend to think that if God calls us at all to follow him – its very much an individual thing – but here, just maybe we have an example of a whole family being called. But each of them in their unique and different way.
Zebedee had a wife and the boys had a Mother and her name was Salome. She does not make an appearance in today’s episode – but she certainly makes her mark as the Gospel unfolds.
We read that she goes trailing after Jesus and seems to join his entourage and when she sees that her boys have some sort of pride of place with Jesus, she steps forward and requests of Him that when his kingdom is established, her two boys might be given pride of place in the grand scheme of things.” Grant that one of them might sit one at your right hand and the other on your left in your kingdom” She blurts out. All quite laughable.
But there is more to Salome than this, for we see her again right near the foot of the cross as Jesus is crucified. Her two golden boys are nowhere to be seen now and we read that Salome stood at a distance out at Calvary, with other women and we read that she provided for Jesus and his friends out of her own means.
The profits of old Zebedee’s fishing business I shouldn’t wonder.
Then after the resurrection of Jesus all the followers are left at sixes and sevens and the boys go back to Zebedee and take their places briefly back in the old firm and it is when they are out fishing – that they catch sight of Jesus on the shore and their lives are changed again.
What a strange family these four must have made. Zebedee and Salome. James and John, but together each one of them made great contributions to the life and work of Jesus. So if I were to set you before this story and ask you if you had to be one of these characters which one would you be.
Would you like be Zebedee, staying in one place, being a firm foundation, and if others thought you added up to nothing very much – well let them think that – because quietly you were doing your bit.
Would you be Salome, watching out for your family, looking to forward the best interests of your children and in doing so, finding yourself strangely catapulted from being a bit of a nuisance, to being right at the heart of Jesus’s passion.
Would you like to be James or John, full of inadequacies, not always knowing what you are doing, but prepared to let your faith lead you into new spaces and possibilities beyond your imagining.
Or maybe quite frankly – you end up thinking I don’t want to be any of them – I just want to be left alone and remain unnoticed by Jesus – and run the equivalent of a night time cycle repair shop.
And maybe that’s not to be despised – for old Matthew Burnett, like Zebedee, undertook no journeys of his own- but in his workshop, he facilitated many a journey of others.
Beware, because I think Jesus continues to walk by the seashore not just of Galilee but on the tides and waves and rhythms of our lives. Would you be ready to let him catch your eye so that he can call you in your own unique way?
And maybe the thought of being singled out for service is a worrying thing, but what if it was to be a family thing. A sense in which all are called and each support the other in their calling.
This might seem far fetched too – but maybe that’s why we are called to be a family here in St Matthew’s because amongst our membership are the Zebedees, the Salome’s and the James and Johns – as if our task is not just to find our own way – but to see it opening up in conjunction with others.
What sort of church would we need to be to make this happen – or is it happening now – but just don’t see the character we are already cast as.