8 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.
Sometime in the past I heard a sermon about this passage, marveling at the immediate-ness of the disciples response. And it always seemed unbelievable that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John would have just left their work to follow Jesus. I wondered what would happen to their boats? Their fish? Their nets? Wouldn’t someone take their things? Wouldn’t their dad be angry at them? How irresponsible to leave work to follow someone, no matter how interesting that someone was! Go after you finish work, silly disciples.
In the sermon, the emphasis was on Jesus’ appeal – that perhaps the disciples felt they could not wait another moment to be with Jesus. Or perhaps, these disciples (unlike some that come later) were examples of how we need to respond to Jesus, immediately leaving our work to follow him.
I read this story to the girls tonight in our Bible picture book and I read it differently.
See, here in Cambodia, there’s a lot more time. Cambodians don’t tend to hurry about very much. There are entire jobs where you just sit to see if something happens, such as guards, parking assistants and street vendors. Many people have carts of street food that they can wheel around to different parts of the town or city if they get bored, but many others are just a table and grill outside their house. Cambodians are culturally committed to the after-lunch nap and to wrapping work up exactly when its time. Sure, there are exceptions who will finish the sentence in the proposal after 5pm, but there are many who will say “it’ll be there tomorrow”. Work days are legally 7.5 hours long and despite cutting the 28 national holidays down to 22 in 2020, Cambodia is still in the top 2 countries for most national holidays in a year. Additionally, holidays that last more than a day will often result in people taking the whole week off. Or, around a week-long holiday, teachers will simply not go to teach classes for the week before and after.
To an efficiency based, outcome-driven indoctrinated capitalist like me, this at first seems totally alien. Secondly, it seems really, really boring. But because Cambodians aren’t driven to work and put living before working, they have space in their lives to respond to people. They drop everything and run to the aid of anyone in a traffic accident, even a minor one. They ask about each other’s lives and “waste” time visiting together at the office. They go over-the-top for celebrations, creating layers of customs, traditions and activities.
And I’ve been here long enough, I suppose, that I can easily imagine Jesus walking past my North American hard-working self in the office and not receiving a glance. But I can’t imagine Jesus, or anyone unfamiliar, walking through our office without greetings and conversation. I can’t imagine Jesus walking down our street and visiting with vendors and shopkeepers without gathering a following. People here have space for people, for ideas, for each other. People work to live rather than living for work.
It’s a big generalization to be sure. You can’t lump all people of a culture together and there is plenty of hard work done within our office and the culture. However, it has made me wonder if maybe Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were living and working with space in their lives to notice Jesus. Maybe they cultivated space so that when someone remarkable came along, they were able to answer.