In our reading this morning we hear Matthew’s very dramatic version of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. I say, dramatic because it seems that Jesus just says the word and instantly the men cast aside their nets and become his followers; and whilst that’s certainly one way of telling it, Matthew’s setting of the scene gives us additional information that helps fill out the story.
After his baptism and the 40 days spent in the wilderness, Jesus goes into Galilee. His ministry begins in ‘the lion’s den,’ so to speak. We will find out a little later on that the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, (son of Herod the Great who we heard about just a few weeks ago), is the one who arrested John the Baptist. Galilee is a dangerous place for a prophet – especially one calls upon people to ‘repent.’
Jesus makes his home in Capernaum; a small town of perhaps 1,000 people. As it was situated on the coast, some of those who lived there became fishermen, whilst others continued the age-old tradition of farming. It wasn’t a grand place – the great and the good lived elsewhere. Back in its history, the region had belonged to the tribe s of Zebulon and Naphtali, but by the 1st century it had been conquered by the Romans and was even known as Galilee of the Gentiles.
That’s probably why the Romans were satisfied to put a ‘puppet’ prince in charge of it – for such was Herod. Like his father before him, Antipas was not deemed to be properly Jewish and he already had a reputation for violence and brutality.
What chance then, does a Prince of Peace have against this so-called, ‘King of the Jews?’
Like the Baptiser before him, Jesus preaches a message of repentance. In Hebrew the meaning is to ‘turn around’ or turn back – like Isaiah calls upon the people to do; but in Matthew, the word is the Greek, metanoia – which has more of a ‘change of mind’ meaning. Jesus then, is calling for something new – it’s not just that the people need to turn back to God, they need to change their thinking. The old ways won’t do. Prophet after prophet have called upon the people to turn back to God and yet, they still don’t get it. They have to change their understanding – change their thinking. That’s Jesus’ way. That’s the Kingdom Way.
And what they really need to understand is that Jesus the Messiah, is not just an idea, a concept to be argued about or discussed or held; Jesus is a way of life – Jesus is the Way.
To follow Jesus is to follow a way of life.
What of the disciples then? These ordinary fishermen, going about their work on the beach one day when Jesus calls upon them to ‘follow.’
Physically and figuratively they throw down their old lives and take up a completely new way of living – they literally repent.
There’s a terrific clash of cultures here. Jesus goes first to two brothers, Simon and Andrew and then to a second set of brothers, James and John. Family life was of great importance in Jewish culture. Sons were not free to choose their own paths; they had family responsibilities sometimes with parents and siblings to look after, yet Jesus’ Way seems to overturn all that too. The Way is costly.
Now we know from other stories in the Gospels that these disciples didn’t completely desert their families or their fishing. Later on, Jesus goes to Simon’s house and tends to Simon’s Mother-in- Law. The disciples catch fish and sell them in the market, to name but two examples; but the emphasis is that, with Jesus, a new way has begun.
In last week’s reading from the Gospel of John, we heard how Jesus issued an invitation to ‘come and see,’ and that it was through this relational way of being that the disciples discovered more about him. In this version, Jesus’ invitation is more demanding, more dramatic because time is short. The dangers of this world are all too real and he must face them. If the disciples are to play their part they must engage. They need to change their minds – change their worlds.
In this third week of epiphany, perhaps we, too can discover a little more about the one who calls us to follow. Jesus challenges us to make the Way, an integral part of our lifestyle. We need to change our minds and align them with the Way of the Kingdom; to think more in terms of God’s ways than our own. As we read about the disciples in the Gospels we see that they are far from perfect; they fail, they fall asleep – they just don’t get it – but they do follow. Day after day they follow, getting covered in the dust of their rabbi, seeking to learn more – seeking to be more, following the Way.
May we be bold enough to follow too. Amen.