I had an awfully bad habit during my years as a talk show host. I would read a news story about someone and I would make a value judgment on that person based on a single article I read about them. In fact, we all tend to do this. When what might be someone’s worst moment of their life is captured on video, there is no shortage of people on social media to brand them as the worst person in the world (for that day). I received a reminder of this recently during my morning devotionals.

Dr. Harold Sala, writing at “Guidelines” highlighted a somewhat mysterious figure in the New Testament, Zebedee, the father of the Apostles James and John. The brothers were in the fishing business with their father when Jesus came along and said to them: “come follow me.” Sala points out that while Zebedee’s two sons followed Jesus, he stayed behind. Sala then compares Zebedee with modern-day absentee dads:

“There are a lot of Zebedees today: the missing dads who aren’t there for their kids, who are gone when their offspring take their first steps and hit their first baseball or toss their first basketball through the hoop. They aren’t there when a child comes home from school with the “my family” story written in scribbled penmanship, not mentioning a dad. But that’s not their greatest failure. Like Zebedee, consumed with climbing the ladder of success, they don’t follow Jesus. They sometimes intend to, but never do it…Though it isn’t impossible, it is challenging to teach boys how to be men—godly caring men in particular—without a role model who is there, who leads the way spiritually.”

So, Sala implies that Zebedee’s absence from James and John once they joined Jesus’ ministry indicates they lacked a role model who led them spiritually. Just three days later I would read another devotional about Zebedee. In a piece titled “An Influential Father,” Dr. Charles Stanley comes to the opposite conclusion Sala does about Zebedee:

“Zebedee accomplished what every Christian father should aspire to achieve—he raised his children to follow Christ. What greater joy could we have than to see our sons and daughters walking with Jesus, not just in the early years but even after they grow up and leave home?”

How could two esteemed theologians reach such dramatically different conclusions about the same man? It’s really not hard to understand. Several speculative conclusions about Zebedee are allowable based on the limited information we have. Perhaps he was bitter that his sons left him alone to manage the fishing business. Perhaps he accepted that Jesus was the Messiah and was excited to see his sons go but felt they were going to need someone in the family making money. Maybe he just never heard “come follow me.” And that is the point of this week’s Fresh Start.

We are inundated with speculative information about people and tend to accept the “facts” that fit our belief system. And even when we have scant verified facts, we read into them what we want to see, which Drs. Sala and Stanley may have done. A few years back I first heard the expression “don’t judge my story based on the chapter you walked in on.” Even worse, let’s not judge on a single page of a single chapter.

Here’s what we know for sure. James and John were working alongside Zebedee doing extremely difficult labor when Jesus called them into his ministry. And there is no evidence Zebedee made any effort to stop them:

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. Matthew 4:21-22 (NIV)

I choose to believe Zebedee enthusiastically encouraged his sons to follow Jesus. As Jesus warned us, let us not use an absence of facts as an excuse to judge people harshly.

This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere WI. 

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