I want to do something a little different today. I want to talk a bit about a particular person in today’s Gospel—one of Christianity’s great, but little known, leaders. When you examine the great leaders of the Christian church, there are certain names that seem to be recognized—names like Simon Peter, Paul of Tarsus, John the Evangelist, Mary Magdeline, St. Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, Martin Luther, Philip Malancthon, John Calvin, John Wesley are recognized across most denominations. From modern time we might also add Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Angelo Roncalli and Karolus Wotyla, better known as Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. These were men and women who impacted the faith of large groups of people. They were men and women who stood out in a crowd—sometimes quietly, sometimes not-so-quietly—and had a powerful impact on thousands, if not millions of people.
However, there are other great leaders of the Christian church, who labored far more quietly; often in relative obscurity; who did as much for the church in their quiet, unassuming ways, as did those who labored more conspicuously. Today, I want to talk about a prototype of those great, unassuming leaders—Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.
Although Andrew is the least known of the four disciples in the inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, John, and Andrew—he was most certainly a member of the group that seems to have been closest to Jesus. But he’s very different from the other three. There are times in the Gospels when he seems to have not been included in key events with them, but at other times we find him featured as part of the inner circle.
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What we do find when we examine the life of Andrew, is a man who was not only the first disciple to be called but one who through his own eagerness to follow Jesus, brought other individuals to Jesus. In fact, the first person Andrew brought to Jesus was none other than his brother Simon. In John 1:35-40 we read:
“Again, the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’
“They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), “where are you staying?”
“He said to them, ‘Come, and see.’
“They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is, being interpreted, Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is by interpretation, Peter).”
Now, this might seem to be a trivial matter, this introduction of Simon to Jesus, but it is far from trivial when you consider the differing personalities of Andrew and Simon as well as the long-term effect of the introduction. But more about that in a moment.
Andrew and Simon were brothers, we know that much. But Gospel evidence also seems to indicate that they were life-long companions, and possibly business partners with another set of fishermen—James and John. The four of them also seem to have shared common spiritual interests, in that they had all become disciples of Jesus’ cousin—John the Baptist. After meeting Jesus the four went back to fishing for a while before being called to full-time discipleship with Jesus. So, it’s only natural that the four—Andrew, Simon, James, and John—formed a cohesive inner group within the body of the twelve disciples.
However, of the four, Andrew was most certainly the least conspicuous. In fact, scripture doesn’t tell us a whole lot about him. Apart from those verses where all 12 disciples are listed, Andrew’s name only appears nine times and most of those references simply mention him in passing. Basically, Andrew lived his life in Simon’s shadow. Many of the verses that do mention Andrew add that he was Peter’s brother, as if it were that fact alone that made him significant.
But sometimes you can’t look at just the quantity of a person’s actions; you have to look at the quality of those actions. And that’s most certainly the case with Andrew. We have to look very carefully not only at what he did, but also at the impact of what he did. Take for example the very first thing that Andrew does after he meets Jesus—he goes to get his brother Simon and brings him to meet Jesus as well. That may not seem like much, until you look at it in the light of sibling relationships. If you have brothers and/or sisters, think about your relationships—particularly if one of you was more dominant than the other. It’s not uncommon, where there is one more dominant sibling, for there to be strong rivalry, possibly some resentment, and in some cases even estrangement. But in Andrew’s case, there is no evidence that he begrudged Simon his dominance. So, immediately after meeting Jesus, he goes to get his brother—with no hesitation. Now, Andrew must have known, based upon Simon’s personality, that as soon as Simon entered discipleship with Jesus, that he—Andrew—was going to be relegated to a more secondary status. Simon’s introduction to Jesus, says a lot about Andrew’s character.
The fact is, everything scripture tells us about this man shows that Andrew had the right stuff for effective ministry. He didn’t need to be the center of attention. He was willing to work in the background. He was willing to let others get the credit and the praise. He was happy to do what he could with the gifts and calling that God had bestowed upon him—and more importantly, he was willing to allow others to do the same.
Andrew appears to be the most thoughtful of the inner four disciples. Think about what we’ve discovered and know about Simon Peter—impetuous and willing to say anything or rush headlong into almost anything. Then there are James and John—the Sons of Thunder, nicknamed as such for good reasons I’ll talk about soon. But there’s never any hint of rashness or impetuousness or recklessness with Andrew. Whenever Andrew speaks—a rarity in the Gospels—he says just the right thing. Whenever he acts apart from the other disciples, he does just the right thing. Notice I said, “whenever he acts apart from the other disciples.” I’m not saying Andrew didn’t make mistakes. He did. There were times when he was following Simon Peter’s lead or acting as part of the group of disciples, when he made the same mistakes they all made. But whenever he acts or speaks as an individual, he rises above the others. He was an effective leader who chose not to take the spotlight.
Take a look at one of those instances when Andrew absolutely shines. But let me ask you a question, first just to make a point. If I asked you who it was at the feeding of the 5,000 that brought the little boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus, how many of you, prior to today’s homily, would have immediately said, “Andrew.” Listen to the story from John 6:5-9:
“Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip,‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?’ This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
“Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone of them may receive a little.’
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?'”
Notice several things about this story. First, John says that Jesus “said this to test (Philip) for he himself knew what he would do.” John wants to make sure that we understand the importance of what is happening, and that Jesus is in control. Second, notice that Jesus first speaks to Philip who, being very practical, looks into the treasury bag and notes that they do not have enough money to provide for the crowd. Philip’s vision is simply overwhelmed by the size of the crowd.
In Matthew’s Gospel (14:15) the same story is recounted, but the writer adds that the disciples say, “When evening had come, his disciples came to him, saying, ‘This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.'”
Then in Matthew’s version (v. 16), Jesus speaks up and says, “They don’t need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Can you imagine how the disciples must have reacted to what must have seemed an impossible, unreasonable demand on the part of Jesus?
It’s at this point that Andrew speaks up, and brings the little boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus. Of course, Andrew doesn’t know HOW Jesus is going to pull it off, he just seems to have faith that Jesus CAN pull it off. And, well, you know how the rest of that story goes with the feeding of the five-thousand.
But this event is typical of Andrew. He just quietly goes about his ministry of bringing individuals to Jesus at just the right time. He let’s the others deal with the multitudes. Andrew concentrates on the individuals. He was more concerned with bringing people to Jesus than he was with who got the credit or with who was in charge. He seems to have had little craving for honor. He just moves along quietly, only speaking when he has to, and then only when it’s related to bringing someone to Jesus. He was not the foundation or even a pillar of the church, but he may well have been the keystone that held everything in place. He was one of those rare people willing to take a back seat in order to support others in their work, and he didn’t mind as long as the Lord’s work was getting done.
Andrew sets the example for many of us who wonder what we can do of value in the church. But think about Andrew. Was he slighted in any way? No. He was privileged. He was the first to hear (from the John the Baptist) that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He was the first to follow Jesus. He was part of the inner circle. But best of all, he had a whole lifetime of doing what he loved best—introducing individuals to the Lord.
Even at the end of life, Andrew continued in his own way to bring people to Christ. We have no historical evidence—he never wrote an Epistle; he never founded any churches we know of; he isn’t mentioned in the book of Acts or in any of the Epistles. But Eusebius, the ancient church historian, passed on the oral tradition that Andrew carried the Gospel north, perhaps going as far as the British Isles and Scythia. Those travels may explain why he is considered the Patron Saint of both Scotland and Russia.
It was in Achaia, in southern Greece, near Athens, that Andrew’s life ended. Tradition has it that he converted the wife of a provincial Roman Governor to Christianity. Infuriated, the governor demanded his wife recant. She refused, and the governor had Andrew crucified. But even during his agonies, as he hung on the X-shaped cross, Andrew continued to spread the Gospel, exhorting passersby to turn to Christ for salvation. So after a lifetime of serving Christ in the shadow of his brother, his fate was similar to theirs, and he remained faithful to the end, endeavoring to bring people to Christ—right to the end of his life.
So we should thank and praise God for people like Andrew. They’re quiet; always laboring faithfully but inconspicuously. They may not receive much recognition, but then again they don’t seek it. But you know what recognition they will hear? They’ll hear the same thing that I’m sure Andrew heard when his race was done—”Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”
Let us pray.
May the love of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who calls each of us—like Andrew—to do his work in our own way. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010, Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.