Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10b-11)
I stood at my local train station in suburban Melbourne, waiting for the train to take me to Bible study, but I never made it to Bible study that night. There were a number of other passengers waiting to board the train that would soon arrive at the station; however, this evening, one of them was considering jumping in front of the train.
I approached him carefully as he was talking to himself and whoever else might hear, and soon he was talking to me. I listened as he told me about what was happening in his life. When the train arrived, he boarded with me and we sat together and continued the conversation. Then, I believe God called me … or perhaps it just made sense, or seemed right … I decided not to continue on to my intended destination tonight, but instead to continue the conversation with this fellow passenger.
While at the pub across from his closest station, with coffee and lemonade at our table, I texted my Bible study leader while my acquaintance was at the toilet, ‘I won’t make it tonight, I’ll explain later’. The man and I talked for quite a while, and after saying good-bye him, noticing his more contented state, I returned home to my share house about the same time I would have if I had gone to Bible study.
When I later caught up with my Bible study group leader, she encouraged me in my actions that night, but expressed some concern for the risk I took: a woman of twenty going to a pub with an older, suicidal man she had just met. Well, okay, maybe it does sound foolish if it’s put like that. Was I being naive and risky in my behaviour? Awful things can still happen to people who are trying to do something out of love. I explained that, yes, there was some risk, but I observed that the streets were well-lit and there were lots of people about. Furthermore, the fact that I regularly caught the train at night while owning a working car – due to my attempt to minimise my carbon footprint (and also due to my enjoyment of the walk and train) – demonstrates that I did not (and do not) subscribe to the notion that young women should never walk at night. The pub was a public place; I did not enter a home or car alone with him. I’m glad I changed direction that night.
It’s hardly an all-encompassing story of leaving behind everything to lead a whole new life that Jesus calls me to. (I cannot imagine how those people in Luke did that!) It was just one Bible study meeting. There were plenty before and plenty afterwards. Yet in some small way, I was open and ready in a moment to at least change my direction for that evening, to try to be Jesus to someone who seemed to really need some love.
I can’t really think of any examples of late. Nowadays, in my job, I sometimes encounter people who are considering suicide. I still genuinely care and I try to show the same sort of love I did to the man at the train station, but at the end of the day, it’s part of my job, so it’s different to choosing to change my direction in order to listen to someone. ‘Choosing’ is also a notion I have been reflecting on. Unlike the active choice I made to get off at a different station that night, I can think of a number of examples over the past few years where I have felt a door slam shut on my pursuit. Thus, it seems to be circumstances dictating what I will leave because my attempts were thwarted. Perhaps God is in that door-slamming …? I can try to think positively about a window opening elsewhere … Anyway, that night on the Belgrave/Lilydale train line still stands out in my memory of a time when I decided to leave my plans and follow Jesus – to a pub in Camberwell.