Rocky’s Little Brother

HomeRocky’s Little Brother
January 25, 2015

Rocky’s Little Brother

Passage: Mark 1:14–20

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”       —Mark 1:17

Brothers Andrew and Simon ran a small fishing fleet on the Sea of Galilee in partnership with those other brothers James and John. They were after Carp, sardines, and mullet, also tilapia, which appears even today on restaurant menus under the picturesque name St. Peter’s Fish.

So, there they are, Simon and Andrew, minding their own business, mending their torn nets and patching their storm-tossed sails, when a wild-eyed preacher shuffles past and says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And Mark tells us that “immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him.” No further explanation. Why’d they drop their very livelihood to chase across the Palestinian countryside after an idealistic iconoclast with a beautiful but uncertain dream of changing the world? Why’d they do it? Mark’s in too much of a hurry to share that motivation with us.

In any case, Jesus, with Simon and Andrew in tow, shuffles down the beach a few more yards and comes across a second set of brothers called James and John Bar-Zebedee, who also abandon their boats and livelihood for Jesus’ improbable project. And that is the beginning and committed core of Jesus’ little band of merry men: two sets of brothers–Simon and Andrew, and James and John.

Three of the four brothers instantly rocket to the top leadership positions among Jesus’ twelve disciples. Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ three favorite disciples, his inner sanctum among the broader circle of twelve. Peter, James, and John: they’re the only three to accompany Jesus to the summit of the Mount of Transfiguration. They are the only three to accompany Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prays to God for his life, otherwise alone.

Peter, James, and John: one of the most famous Trinities in history after Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Peter, James, and John: it rolls smoothly off the tongue, like Moe, Larry, and Curly; Chico, Harpo, and Groucho; Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar; Huey, Dewie, and Lewie; Tinker to Evers to Chance; Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras; Harry, Ron, and Hermione; Snap, Crackle, and Pop; Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato.[1]

Peter, James, and John: what happened to the fourth brother?

Simon Peter becomes the shining star of all four Gospels, so we know quite a bit about him. Jesus takes one look at Simon and instantly gives him a nickname—Peter in Greek, Cephas or Kephas in Aramaic. Peter in Greek or Kephas in Aramaic means ‘rock.’

I’m not sure I ever really paid attention to this before, but neither Peter in Greek nor Kephas in Aramaic is a name parents ever christened their children with. It’s a nickname, not something you’re born with but something you earn later in life, an affectionate way for friends and family to gather up the essential and endearing attributes of someone they love.

A nickname is earned, not chosen. You don’t get to choose your own nickname; your friends give it to you. I was with a friend of mine at dinner the other day, and he was telling us about a cowboy expedition he’s about to embark on through the American Southwest. He’s going to join a bunch of other city slickers who leave their soft and privileged suburban existence behind for a week to ride horses across the Arizona desert and sleep on the rocks under the stars in the Arizona desert.

Most of these guys have done this many times, but my friend has never done this before. He’s a virgin, so to speak; this is his maiden voyage. He’s been in the financial services industry for years and has never ridden anything more rambunctious than a Metra Train bench or a Herman Miller office chair.

And he’s a little nervous. So he told the veteran cowboys, “I have two requests. First, he says, “I don’t want a horse called ‘The Widowmaker.’ Give me ‘Buttercup.’” And he made his second request after he learned that every new cowboy gets a nickname. “Call me Flint,” he says. Not the city in Michigan but the ruthless Louis L’Amour cowboy character. Call me Flint. That’s a cousin nickname to the one Jesus gave to Simon. Flint; and ‘The Rock.’ But my friend’s fellow cowboys tell him, “You don’t get to choose your own nickname, Pardner. You’re a rank rookie. You have to earn your nickname. Maybe we’ll call you ‘Buttercup.’”

So over the course of his apostolic career, Simon does not choose but earns the nickname ‘Rocky.’ Rocky is what we call someone with a thick Philadelphia accent and quick fists and a six-pack of rock-solid abs and rough street smarts but not given to quoting Shakespeare or Aristotle on a regular basis.

So when we call Simon ‘Peter,’ a common given name today, we’re really cloaking what Jesus was getting at when he called him Rocky. Maybe Peter said things like “Yo, Adrian!” and shadow-boxed with slabs of carp and had a bulldog named Butkus.

Jesus takes one look at Simon and instantly calls him Rocky, Rocky for those quick fists and that Philadelphia accent, but also because Jesus knows Rocky will become the dense but dependable foundation of an institution numbering two billion souls today and as eternal as anything else on this spinning rock.

We know a lot about Rocky, but less about his blander brother Andrew. Andrew is the only one among the four original brother who didn’t rocket to prominence in the Jesus Entourage. No nickname for Andrew—just Andrew, Rocky’s brother. That’s his greatest claim to fame: he’s Rocky’s brother.

Are you somebody’s brother? Not just anybody’s brother, but SOMEBODY’S brother? Did you make your ambling way through an academic career overshadowed by a more famous sibling with a stratospheric GPA; a closet-full of football trophies and All-State awards; a pick of full-rides to Duke, Northwestern, or Cal Berkeley; and a following pack of adoring co-eds; while you worked like a dog for that B- average, made the JV chess team but not the varsity, never did find a date for the senior prom, and then went on to a stellar career at junior college? Every year at roll-call on the first day of school, did you face the teacher’s breathless awestruck question, “Are you Rocky’s little brother?”

Rocky’s brother. How would you like to be—oh, I don’t know—Tom Brady’s back-up, Einstein’s wife, Don Quixote’s side-kick, Sandy Koufax’s catcher, Kevin Durant’s trainer, Warren Buffet’s secretary, Martin Luther King’s organist, or Brad Pitt’s wife (oh wait, that last one doesn’t work, does it?)? Who played second base when Ernie Banks was at shortstop? Who took his graceful, underhand toss at the beginning of a 6–4–3 double-play?

Here’s an aside to pay tribute to a great man. Year before last, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ernie Banks. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award an American can win. Can you believe that? President Obama is from the south side; he’s a White Sox Fan. And here’s this Cub getting the Medal. Anyway, at the award ceremony, Ernie Banks gave President Obama one of Jackie Robinson’s bats. Does it get any better than that?

How would you like to be Martin Luther King’s organist at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Nothing you could ever play from the bench, no matter how masterful, could ever be as moving and melodious as one of Dr. King’s sermons.

Still, where would Dr. King be without his organist? Where would Ernie Banks be without Gene Baker? Where would Koufax be without his catcher or Buffet without his secretary or, most of all, Quixote without Sancho Panza? Scientists sometimes wonder whether Einstein’s wife helped him formulate the Theory of Special Relativity. There’s plenty of room for SOMEBODY’s brother to shine.

Andrew is nothing more than Rocky’s little brother. Yet every time we meet Andrew in the Gospels he’s dragging somebody to Jesus. It was Andrew who found the little boy with the five loaves and two fishes and that little lunch launched a lavish banquet for five thousand.

Later some Greeks find Andrew and announce “Sir, we would see Jesus,” presumably because not just anybody earned an automatic audience with Jesus. Most of the time when Entertainment Tonight or The New York Times phoned for an interview with the most famous preacher in first-century Palestine he had his press secretary say “No comment,” but these sophisticated, erudite Greeks come to Andrew and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Apparently Andrew had a reputation as somebody who would drag you to see Jesus. If Peter was Jesus’ Vice President, and James his Secretary of State, and John his White House Chief of Staff, Andrew was his Press Secretary, and as Jesus’ Press Secretary, Andrew thinks about that request by those Greeks for a second and then drags them to see Jesus.

We don’t know how that audience went or what happened because of it but you could guess that for all practical purposes it was the beginning of the European, Gentile Church. Andrew beat Paul by twenty years. Thus Andrew is the patron saint of evangelists everywhere, anyone who tries to drag people to Jesus.

I guess the lesson I want to learn from Mark’s account of the calling of the first two disciples is how much God can do with modest raw materials: Rocky and his brother changed the world. This is a sermon for SOMEBODY’s Brother—the eclipsed, the overshadowed, the unsung, the average, anybody who thinks so little of herself she doesn’t think she has a role in the building up of God’s kingdom.

Did somebody ask you to serve as a trustee of this church but you said ‘no’ because you don’t think of yourself as a leader? Why does your self-assessment of your ability supercede the opinion of the sanctified community?

Did somebody ask you to teach Sunday School but you said ‘no’ because you don’t know which Testament the Book of Obadiah is in? Neither does anybody else.

Did somebody ask you to go to Guatemala with the high school kids but you said ‘no’ because you don’t speak Spanish and don’t know which end of the hammer to hold and stammer cluelessly in the presence of teenagers? Can you learn? You’re not just SOMEBODY’s Brother; you’re SOMEBODY who can drag people to Jesus.

Rocky and Rocky’s brother. That’s all there is, modest raw materials for building a church out of. Who wants to be SOMEBODY’s Brother? It’s no fun being Einstein’s wife or Tom Brady’s back-up or Don Quixote’s sidekick.

How would you like to be Elgin Baylor’s roommate? Elgin Baylor played basketball for the Minnesota, later the Los Angeles, Lakers in the 1960’s. Elgin Baylor was one of the greatest scoring machines the NBA has ever seen.

You remember how they called Julius Erving of the 76er’s ‘Dr. J’? Talk about a nickname that was earned! One of Elgin Baylor’s teammates said, long after Elgin’s career was over, “If Julius Erving was ‘Dr. J,’ then Elgin Baylor was a brain surgeon on the basketball floor.” Elgin Baylor may be the most underrated player in NBA history.

Rod Hundley was Elgin Baylor’s teammate for the Lakers. You ever heard of Hot Rod Hundley?

On November 15, 1960, Elgin Baylor scored 71 points in a single game against the New York Knicks. At the time it was the most points one player had ever scored in a single game.

By the way, did you know that of the top eighteen single-player, single-game point totals in NBA history, six of them have been compiled against the New York Knicks? I looked it up. One-third have been against the Knicks, including Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points in 1962 that will probably never be broken, not even by Kevin Durant or LeBron James.

Somebody needs to teach the Knicks how to play defense. So far this year the Knicks’ record is 8–36 for an anemic .182 winning percentage and a defensive ranking of 29 out of 30 NBA teams. Not even Phil Jackson can teach the Knicks how to play defense.

Anyway, on November 15, 1960, Elgin Baylor scored 71 points against the Knicks. Elgin Baylor’s teammate Rod Hundley scored two. As Elgin Baylor and Rod Hundley get into a taxi outside Madison Square Garden after the game, Rod Hundley turns to Elgin Baylor and says, What a night we had, buddy! Seventy-three points between us!”[2]

Now there’s SOMEBODY’s Brother who refuses to minimize his contribution to the cause. There’s somebody who knows that great accomplishments are always a team effort. It’s always Rocky, Rocky’s brother, and God.

Rocky and his brother. That’s all there is at the beginning. Andrew was always dragging people to see Jesus. Therefore he is the patron saint of evangelists everywhere, anybody who tries to drag people to Jesus. Also, of course, the patron saint of Scotland, and therefore, I suppose, also of golfers, whiskey distillers, and Presbyterians.   Leave it to the Presbyterians to choose SOMEBODY’s Brother as their patron saint. Rome gets St. Peter himself and we get the sidekick; they get the Lone Ranger and we get Tonto.

Still, we see Andrew every time we look at the United Kingdom’s Union Jack. Do you notice that there are three crosses on the Union Jack—a square red one for England’s St. George, an X-shaped red one for Ireland’s St. Patrick, and an X-shaped white one for Scotland’s St. Andrew?

Legend has it, you see, that Andrew took the Gospel to the far corners of the earth and at the end was martyred on an X-shaped cross. Just SOMEBODY’s Brother. “Follow me,” said Jesus of Nazareth on the shore of that Galilean Lake so many years ago. “Follow me, and I will help you change the world.”


            [1]I got some help for this list from a web page called “Famous Trios,” at,

            [2]The Little-Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed.Clifton Fadiman (Boston: Little Brown, 1985), 294.