Reflection on St. Andrew's Day
by Jeff Ritchie
November 30 is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. Andrew has always been my favorite among Jesus’ first disciples, and this blog is dedicated to St. Andrew.
Andrew was the first evangelist of the Christian faith, for he brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:41). As I have been involved, directly or indirectly, in sharing the Good News of Jesus most of my adult life, Andrew has been a model disciple for me.
Andrew was not one of the three disciples closest to Jesus – Peter, James and John. He played a background role as his more famous brother became the spokesperson of the early church. Nevertheless, a look back at references to Andrew in the Gospel accounts reveals that he made key contributions to the story that became the Good News, the Gospel.
- Andrew brought the child to Jesus who had five loaves and two fish which Jesus proceeded to multiply and fed over 5,000 people (John 6).
- As the disciples were walking around the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus shocked them by prophesying the complete destruction of the Temple. In response, Andrew asked him a question which occasioned Jesus’ teaching about the events which would precede the final coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 13).
- Shortly before the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, some Greeks told Jesus’ disciple Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip told this to Andrew who relayed the message to Jesus. This again led to a significant teaching moment for Jesus: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12).
In all these stories Andrew’s role is understated, but it leads to something extremely significant in the Gospel story. I see in them that Andrew epitomizes a couple of essential characteristics of followers of Jesus: attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit and contact with not-yet-followers of Jesus.
Regarding the former, we see in Scripture that Andrew was prepared to hear the Word of God before he became a disciple of Jesus. God had moved him to accept the teaching of John the Baptizer that the Kingdom of God was at hand. When John indicated that Jesus was the one whom God had sent into the world to inaugurate that kingdom, Andrew received that word, believed it, and shared it with his brother.
Andrew, along with those early apostles who came from Galilee, also had contact with not-yet-followers of Jesus, for Galilee was a crossroads of the peoples of the Mediterranean world. The very fact that Andrew and Philip were given Greek names by their parents indicates that Jews and non-Jews interacted in Galilee. The passage from John 12, cited above, meant that this contact was more than casual, for when “Greeks” wanted to see Jesus at the Festival of the Passover, they called on Philip and Andrew for help.
In earlier blogs, I have spoken of some mentors on my journey in mission. Let me mention some of the “Andrews” I have known through the years.
Edgar and Doris Ritchie, my parents, were “Andrews” and “Andreas” to their children and to many others. They introduced us to Jesus as they brought us to church in our formative years. They continued to serve in that role as they shared with us and their friends where they were finding the spiritual vitality and renewal that fortified their service as laypeople in the name of Christ.
Bill Iverson, a Presbyterian evangelist in inner-city Newark, New Jersey, was an “Andrew” to me in my early twenties. Iverson was so committed to share the Good News with urban dwellers outside the traditional church that he gave up serving a parish and bought a restaurant across from a high school to get where the people were. Across the counter of his hamburger joint, Bill shared with young people the Good News of Jesus. Then he recruited dozens of young people to spend their summers in Newark in outreach through churches to the neighborhoods around them. My sister and I responded to Bill’s invitation, “Come and see,” in 1971, and the impact of that summer continues. Bill Iverson modeled for hundreds of young adults that the church is only the church when it goes beyond its doors to where the people are.
In the 1980s I worked with dozens of young seminarians in South Korea who studied during the week and then went to rural communities on the weekend to share life and faith with their mostly non-Christian neighbors in those villages. By their witness to the good news in Jesus in word and deed, they led people to faith and discipleship and formed new churches. Only a few of those church planters have become prominent leaders, “Peters” or “Pauls,” in the church in Korea. But as “Andrews” they have produced a harvest such that the Presbyterian churches in Korea have a greater membership than the Presbyterian churches (of all denominations) in the United States.
Working with The Outreach Foundation for two decades has led me to “Andrews” in other countries as well. These followers of Jesus work steadily, humbly, and faithfully to introduce others to the Lord. One of those places is India where The Outreach Foundation has supported church-planting work. In western India, for example, I met lay people who are learning from a godly couple how to share the good news. Once they complete a module of training, the lay people go to villages around their city and share what they have learned. In this way dozens of house fellowships have been formed in the past few years. They are Andrews as they go to the intersection of church and world with their message.
You may not be a person who ordinarily follows the cycle of “feasts and fasts” of the Church Year. But this Thursday, November 30, give thanks for Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Pray for a heart like his, one that is open to the message of Jesus and his kingdom. Like him, find ways to connect with those who are not-yet-disciples and share with them the greatest news of all. Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” May we, like Andrew, take this commission to heart until, in the words of the great hymn by Frank Mason North, “all the world shall learn your love, and follow where your feet have trod; till glorious from your heaven above shall come the city of our God.” (“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” 1903, stanza 6.)