As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
Today we hear the familiar scripture of Jesus calling men to be fishers of men. Jesus first asked Andrew and Simon Peter; then He called James and John to join his disciples.
There are many stories within the Bible that are known as ‘call stories’. A call story is about someone being invited by God to become something new and unexpected. God calls this person to begin, and not only begin, but persist so that this new thing can take place.
One day Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John got up before the sun came up, walked down to the sea and hurled nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It was a day just like every other day; it was dark and probably cool and the nets were smelly and heavy. They were doing what they did every day. There were fishermen.
Jesus came down to the seaside, amid the water and nets and fresh fish, roughly hewn boats of wood, the rhythm of the waves. He stood on the bank watching these men throw out the nets and then haul them back in, loaded with fish. He looked at these men, and in a very commanding voice, announced:
Follow me and I will make you fish for people. (Matthew 4:19)
I imagine they looked at this man on shore as if you he was a little crazy. Obviously, he knew nothing about fishing – the very idea that they could fish for humans!
Who is the crazy man, this itinerant preacher who calls them to fish for people? And where did he come from? The Sea of Galilee was in the middle of nowhere!
What was this man doing there? And why had he come all this way from his home in Nazareth?
And why did he choose these men?
The command / invitation to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to
Come, follow me, (Matthew 4:19)
- “I wonder if you would tag along with me,
if you have the time,
and it’s not too inconvenient.”
It is so difficult for most of us to imagine getting up and leaving everyone and everything they knew to follow Jesus. We surmise that the disciples were extraordinary, first-century super heroes of the faith that we can admire but not identify with.
But we know that Jesus did not read resumes before he called these men to be his disciples. He didn’t care what their history was. And as we now know, sometimes he didn’t always make the best decision on whom He called. Simon, who became known as Peter, denied Jesus three times during his trials. James and John, often called the ‘Sons of Thunder’, thought this calling was going to allow them to defeat the Romans and enthrone them in glory, quite the opposite of what Jesus taught. But Jesus called them, and in spite of their own personal deficiencies, He still made them his disciples. And they left their old life, its security, and even their families. They may have been afraid, but not so afraid that their faith in Jesus did not lead them to answer His call.
And why did they follow Jesus?
When they were called by Jesus, they must have felt the joy of the new world that Jesus was preaching. They were about to see miracles performed and illnesses cured. Jesus was going to show them a wonderful new world, touch everyone who heard Him, and then, make the ultimate sacrifice to bring about the new world.
If Jesus called this group of imperfect humans to be His fishers of men, then why wouldn’t He call each of us to follow Him? Our own calling means the same kind of new beginning; each of us are called to go to that edge of safety so we can bring people to Christ. Jesus comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to do something new.
We are called to be evangelists. . . to look for and bring people to Christ. We are called to say to others ‘Come and See’. But we can’t be fishers of people until we have been caught by Jesus. We need to fish for others using our own personal experience as bait.
Jesus issues the same call to us — to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us, the way Jesus was and is in relationship with us. We need to bear each other’s burdens, care for each other – especially the vulnerable – hold onto each other through thick and thin, always with the promise of God’s abundant grace.
I remember giving a testimony at a church as part of the stewardship campaign about how the church and God had gotten me through a very rough time when my partner of 27 years was dying of cancer. After the service, a young man came up to me and thanked me for my testimony. It seems that he was so depressed and sure that God hated him that he had been planning to go home and commit suicide.
Imagine how I felt at that moment. I certainly had not given the testimony with the intent of fishing for people. But with God’s help and direction, my little testimony was the bait that brought a young man back to God and salvation.
We are called to bring others to the kingdom of Christ. . . where we are all one in His love.
But, how do we do that?
Think of one person you have a relationship with: it could be someone you love or someone that irritates or frustrates you. Now, take a moment to pray for them; believe that God is using you to make a difference in their lives.
You are now a ‘fisher of people’ – you have joined the ranks of those that Jesus first called on the banks of the Galilee! You are caring for those whom God loves?
Let us pray:
We are lazy sometimes, God. Sitting comfortably here, it’s easy to ignore the suffering of others, easy to forget the challenge to see your image in friend and stranger, easy to expect others to work for justice. We are lazy sometimes, God, and that diminishes us. Make us uncomfortable, make us alert, make us responsive to the call of Jesus. Above all, make us love, in your name. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 26 January 2014