3 Epiphany —27 January 2008
St. John’s, Keokuk — 10:00
Isaiah 9:1-4 Ps 27:1,5-13 1Cor 1:10-18 Matt 4:12-23
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
This is a marvelously vivid and dramatic scene—so easy to image (at least I find it so). A bright blue sky over the sea of Galilee, a gentle breeze blowing, the sound of the waves breaking gently on the beach, the cries of the gulls overhead. Standing a bit offshore is a fishing-boat, the fishermen in practiced concert casting their net out over the water. Another fishing-boat is run up on the beach, its owners perches on the gunwales, carefully examining every cord of their net, every knot, retying, splicing. Along the beach comes Jesus; he pauses for a few moments, watching, and then he strides purposefully down to the water’s edge, and calls out: “Simon! Andrew! James and John! Follow me! From now on you’ll go fishing for people!” And immediately they drop their nets and follow Jesus. And poor old Zebedee, who hasn’t quite noticed, suddenly looks up from his net-mending: “James? John? Where’d everybody go?” Oh, it’s a scenario just waiting for the cameras!
This is a familiar episode to us, I think, and one that’s often presented to us as an example (the Collect of the Day today is a fairly clear instance: “Give us grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ”). Like these disciples, we too should drop everything and follow Jesus.
And that can be a little threatening. We can easily enough imagine ourselves back in first-century Galilee, mending our fishnets, and Jesus comes by (organ music) and intones, “Follow Me!” and we hop right up and say, “Yes, Lord, here I come!” and it all sounds rather romantic, and besides, who wants to mend a bunch of smelly old fishnets anyway? But when we think instead about Jesus poking his head into our office, our shop, our factory, our kitchen, our classroom, and saying “Drop all that and come follow me”—well, that may not be quite so romantic! And the words which spring to our lips may be, “Hey, wait a minute! What about my stuff?”
Bear in mind, from last Sunday’s Gospel, that Andrew at least, and probably his brother Simon, had been disciples of John the Baptist, and had met Jesus of Nazareth already. Jesus had been living in their town of Capernaum and preaching there. So probably these fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John, knew Jesus and had been hearing him proclaim the breaking-in of the reign of God. And so when Jesus summoned them to follow him, they had at least some notion of what it was all about. Jesus’ call didn’t come completely out of the blue. Obviously they didn’t know at the time where it would all lead. But their decision to follow Jesus wasn’t a headlong, or blind, or rash decision. They knew Jesus; they trusted him; and when he called, they did leave everything and followed him.
Jesus does not expect us to follow him blindly or irresponsibly. He knows that we have obligations, and what our obligations are; he knows much better than we do what our real obligations are, and what of our “obligations” are only excuses. But Jesus does call us to follow him, and that means we have to move from where we are to where he is. (It may not be a spatial movement, but it is at least a change in mentality, in attitude, in the way we direct and live our lives—a very real movement.) And moving means we have to leave some things behind. Maybe some of our material possessions. Certainly some of our ideas, desires, preconceptions, loyalties, habits, values, priorities, and preferences—if we are to follow Jesus.
“Follow Jesus.” But what does that mean? Notice what Jesus says to his first disciples: Not just “Follow me,” but “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Follow me not just for your own sake, not just as a matter of your own personal religion, but follow me, come with me, because we have work to do together, gathering the world under the sovereignty of God. As the Collect says, “Give us grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.”
Jesus calls most of us, in the first instance, to follow him, and to fish with him, right where we are. He’s not asking us to go off somewhere special, but to be someone special and to do something special right here, where we are. Most of us are called to follow Christ and to work with him to bring the world into his realm of love in very here-and-now, day-by-day, yes even ordinary kinds of ways. The whole world is to be claimed for the dominion of God; and that means every little corner of the world is important; and that means that your little corner of the world is important to God, and your work is needed for the building up of God’s reign.
Having said that, I think it’s also important to say this: Some people are called to follow Christ and to work with him to bring the world under his sovereignty in extraordinary, unusual, improbable, far-out, far-off, heroic ways. And there’s no guarantee that you aren’t one of them.
Andrew and Simon (Jesus nicknamed him “The Rock,” Kephas in Aramaic, Petros [Peter] in Greek), and James and John the sons of Zebedee, all knew Jesus. They trusted him. And when he called, they followed. Jesus wants us to know him. He wants us to trust him (to have faith in him)—that he is indeed the proclaimer and bearer and enactor and embodiment of the reign of God. And he calls us to follow him, not just for our own sake, not just for our own personal salvation, but to be with him fishers for the whole of humankind, casting the net of his love to gather in and give life to a broken world.