Text: Matthew 4:18-25
In the gospel this morning, we encounter Jesus calling his first disciples.
We’ve heard this story so many times I would imagine that, to some, it maybe has gotten a little…stale.
Yep, yep. Jesus is walking on the beach, he sees some brothers, he says to them, “follow me” and BOOM they drop everything and follow him.
And thus begins the ministry of Jesus and in turn the radical transformation of the world through Christianity.
Well…not so much.
I mean, to a point, yes.
But let’s look at this story a little closer.
Jesus approaches the men—who are fishing because they are, you guessed it!- fishermen.
And he says to them:
“Follow me and I will show you how to double your income in just 5 easy steps!”
ok, ok. That didn’t happen.
He says them:
“Follow me and I will show you how to be an even BETTER fisherman than you already are!”
Nope. ok, that didn’t happen either.
So what did Jesus say?
“Follow me and I will make you fish…for people”
And immediately….Immediately, the men dropped everything and
Now at this time, being a fisherman wasn’t this idyllic life of peaceful production;
it didn’t carry with it the freedom of self-employment where you could control your own hours,
make as much as you were willing to fish,
and so on and so forth
At this time, the Roman Empire controlled all aspects of land and sea.
Rome asserted control over all of their production
their contracts and customers
The fishermen are merely cogs in a vast, imperial economy.
This was their trade
This was their lifeline
And yet, this man approaches them and— offers them something more.
And the fact that Jesus approaches them is significant and says a lot about God
Because in ancient culture fishermen aren’t among the elite
They don’t have personal wealth
or really any power at all.
And yet, they will later play a critical role in the early days of the church
But on this day, they are simply ordinary men
doing ordinary work.
They don’t hesitate.
They don’t say,
“This sounds like an interesting proposal, Rabbi, let me review the terms, consult with my wife and financial planner and get back to you by the close of business tomorrow.”
Because following Jesus offers a life of meaning.
Even though all of them had steady jobs and familial ties to the jobs to boot
this call was a call to a life of deeper meaning
A life with God
Fishing for people touched that inner part of their soul
That deep longing I believe we all have
A place in our hearts and our very bodies that yearns to make a difference in the world and participate in something bigger than ourselves.
This is God at work in our lives.
planting that seed of desire in everyone’s hearts.
As the body of Christ we long to make the world a better place— to build a more loving and peaceful kingdom using the gifts we’ve been blessed with.
And not just through our vocations, but with our very lives.
How we treat our neighbor
How we treat each other.
So all the men—Peter and his brother Andrew
James and his brother, John
all abandon their predictable lives and set forth on this adventure with this little known rabbi.
In the text, our translation says “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”
But others translate it as
I will show you how to fish for people
I think that better describes what Jesus does here
Because what happens next in the story?
He travels throughout Galilee, these brothers in tow, and teaches in the synagogues sharing the good news of the kingdom.
But what else does he do?
He cures diseases
He treats sicknesses.
He eases pain
He CARES for people.
Follow me, he says.
Have you ever noticed that wherever Jesus goes, there seems to be a lot of sick people?
This is actually a reflection of the imperial world at this point in time.
Lives lived under the close control of the Roman Empire.
This type of oppressive living was bad for people’s health.
One commentary I read noted that 70-90 percent of folks in Rome’s empire experienced some level of poverty.
At this time
people didn’t really understand hygiene
water quality was poor
they had little food and the food they had was poor quality
Such factors resulted in widespread diseases
and these kinds of diseases were death-bringing in a world that required physical labor for survival.
And lest we get too comfortable and think we are safely removed from this, all we have to do is travel to a 3rd world country— or even some parts of our own city—to experience the same realities
Jesus’ healings and caregiving aren’t just loving acts, but acts that seek to reverse the damage inflicted by an oppressive system
and usher in a new reality—
the kingdom of God.
Yes, following Jesus shows the men how to care for others
How to reverse injustice
How to love the neighbor.
Following Jesus is a radical departure from the predictable life they’ve known.
God in Jesus calls these men to follow him
into a new life
follow him to a new existence
God calls them to participate in this new way of being
To help build a new kingdom.
God continues to do this today.
Where is God calling you?
I was talking to my friend Karen
We were discussing this passage and I asked her about her thoughts on following Jesus
What does it mean, What does it look like-
all that stuff
And she shared with me a challenge I think many of us struggle with-
knowing when it is actually God inviting us
Because there are so many competing influences in our lives
so many pulls and temptations
How do we know if it’s Jesus calling us into action—
How do we know if it Jesus inviting us into new spaces—
How do we know if what we are doing with our lives
and our time
and our money
is pleasing to God?
How do we know?
Friends, I say we know by knowing Jesus
By getting to know the character of Jesus
Reading the stories in Scripture and observing
what he does
how he acts
who he favors
what he says
When we do this, we not only learn about Jesus, we get to know Jesus.
And what following him looks like today.
God is always beckoning us
Asking us to follow
But do we?
How often does God approach us and beckon us to follow and we DON’T “immediately” follow?
It happens all the time
We get too busy
Or too self-interested
oftentimes we get so caught up in the cares of life that we slip into this rhythm that sort of pushes God into the background
We completely miss Jesus’ invitation.
Or misunderstand it.
And to be fair, knowing how to follow Jesus has gotten a bit hijacked
And even some politicians
Who insist that following Jesus involves an approach I certainly don’t see evidenced in Scripture
and certainly not one embraced by Jesus.
There are young people today who want no part in following this Jesus because all they read about and all they see in the news and in media is a complete misrepresentation of what it truly means to follow Jesus.
What it means to lead an authentic Christian life.
And who can blame them when all they’re seeing are these distorted efforts and claims all done in the name of faith.
So let me help clear up a few things—
Following Jesus is NOT
Building structures and crafting policies to keep out refugees fleeing violence in their home countries
Following Jesus is NOT
Hatred, rooted in fear like
or frankly any phobia.
Following Jesus is not shunning your neighbor
Following Jesus is not shaming someone because they’ve made some mistakes or might disagree with your point of view.
Following Jesus IS
answering the gentle call of love
Following Jesus is caring
Following Jesus is compassion
Following Jesus is connection
The fishermen in today’s gospel were lucky enough to have a human encounter with God in Jesus
and were blessed with a very stark and direct invitation to follow him.
Today ours might be more subtle
But they are nevertheless there
In all kinds of ways Jesus calls us to follow him
If we could just pause long enough to listen for it
To engage our senses and our heart to receive it.
Listen for it
in a whisper
Listen for it
in a roar
Listen for it
Listen for it
And you’ll hear it.
And let the adventure begin.