Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Follow Me" (Reflections on Epiphany 3, Year A)

Image result for images for "fishers of men"
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)

The story in Matthew’s gospel of Jesus calling the first disciples (Matthew 4:12-35) has always had me a little perplexed. In Luke’s gospel it makes sense: Jesus performs a really cool miracle. He has these professional fishermen who have fished all night—these guys who are sure, based on their own personal expertise that there’s no catch to be had—drag their butts back out into the water and shazzam! The Sea of Galilee is spewing fish like a slot machine paying off in quarters. Now that story makes sense. If you’re confronted with a miracle, you may well have faith in the guy who performed it.

But Matthew and Mark’s telling of the call of these first disciples offers no explanation. Jesus just wanders up to these fishermen and says, “Follow me,” and they follow him. Why? What is it about this dude that gets working men to walk off the job (and leave their dad in the case of James and John) and start marching around behind him? Would you do it?

Short of performing a miracle, it’s awfully hard to motivate folks to leave the comfortable and familiar and set off into the unknown. But I imagine that, given their circumstances, Peter and Andrew and James and John said to each other, “What have we got to lose? Things are crappy enough as it is. John the Baptist is in jail, so we might as well give this new guy a chance.”

It’s significant, I think, that Matthew marries this story of call and response to the promise from Isaiah: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Things must’ve been pretty dark for working stiffs in Jesus’ day. They could choose to give up and sit in the darkness, or they could take a chance on finding light.

Matthew says that Jesus withdrew to Galilee after John had been arrested. Galilee was the territory run by Herod Antipas, the tyrant who arrested John. Maybe the fishermen were impressed with the gutsiness of a preacher who would come and continue the message of a man who was already in danger of death and do so right under the nose of the ruler. Maybe they wanted to hang on to that faint glimmer of hope that God had not abandoned them completely, and so they were willing to take a chance on a man who told them that God’s rule was near, and that they had to change their way of thinking in order to experience it. Maybe they were just plain friggin’ desperate.

I think we all know that, when times are hard, people are willing to fall for anyone who comes along with a slick line of b.s. But these guys not only followed Jesus, but stayed with him. The proof was in the deeds, not just the words. Jesus showed them compassion for the ones on the margins of society, the sick and those with diseases. He also broke the barriers by welcoming those from the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Gentiles (vv. 24-25). This must’ve been something new they hadn’t seen before.

Today in the United States it seems that just about everyone who is a registered Democrat thinks he or she should run for President. Some of the candidates have dropped out, but some are still slugging it out, trying to attract voters. If someone wants to get my vote, I want to see a little Jesus in them. I want to be challenged to repent—that is, to change my mind and see things a new way. I want to see compassion for the ones who have been left out, just as Jesus showed love for those who had been discarded from the society of his day. I want to see faith. I want to know that someone believes that change can happen, and that that change will be for God’s glory. Please, someone, give me a vision of a world and a society that works as God intends—full of peace, mercy, and justice—and show me how we’ll get there.

But the story isn’t just about the charismatic power of Jesus. It’s about the willingness of the fishermen to leave their nets and follow him. Certainly God Almighty, if displeased with this hapless rock we call Earth, could just snap his/her Almighty fingers and make everything perfect again. But God is a more loving God than that. God desires our active participation.

The story of the call of the first disciples comes right after the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness. The two tales together remind me of a Kris Kristofferson song called “To Beat the Devil.” The lyrics tell of a down-and-out musician who is advised by a mysterious stranger to give up his singing because “no one wants to know.” The singer is tempted, but ultimately decides:

And you still can hear me singin' to the people who don't listen,
To the things that I am sayin', prayin' someone's gonna hear.
And I guess I'll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin', hopin' someone's gonna care.

Discipleship requires that we cast new nets—nets of vision and faith—and be active participants in changing our world, our church, and ourselves.

Thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment