“While passing by” (Mark 1:16 & 2:14), Jesus noticed his first disciples and called them. In this “passing by” there is a breath of freedom. Jesus had no fixed strategy; he saw his future disciples and called them. He said very little to them about his expectations for them, very little also about what they could expect from him. They would discover it little by little. Jesus wanted them to be just as free as he was. Or rather; free in the same way as he was.
“You, follow me!” are the last words of Christ in the gospels (John 21:22). Risen from the dead, he continues to invite people to follow him. He is always “passing by.” I do not choose the moment. One day, some words of the Gospel touch me. An encounter or an event turns my life upside down and leads me to make a commitment with him. A call is first and foremost something that happens to me.
Where then is my freedom, since I am not the one who chose to encounter Christ but rather he found me? Furthermore, when I am asked why I have made such a commitment, it is hard for me to reply since, as for the disciples, things seem to have happened partly by chance. “Passing by, Jesus saw…” and Levi, without hesitating for a second, “got up and followed him” (Mark 2:14). Is not this action a bit too quick to be a conscious, responsible and free choice? What is sure is that Levi, by getting up, became free. Until then, he had disposed freely of himself and his tax-collector’s table. From that moment on, his horizons became wider.
Although Christ’s call came to Levi as something evident, it did not violate his freedom. For where Christ is, the Holy Spirit is there as well. Christ’s call corresponds to something in the depths of my heart. It comes to me both from without – from words I have heard or read, an event or an encounter – and from within. It liberates more than it commands. At the same time as Christ calls me, the Holy Spirit unbinds in me what was captive, releases what was cramped and anguished.
Jesus did not determine his disciples’ behavior in advance. He was fond of asking them questions: “Who am I for you?” (Mark 8:29); “Do you want to leave, too?” (John 6:67); “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). Our liberty and our creative involvement are important to him. It is only my response that makes his call certain for me. My own footsteps trace out my path as a follower of his. “In calling you, God does not dictate what you have to do. His call is first and foremost a personal encounter.” (Letter to those who want to follow Christ).