Isaiah 8:23 -- 9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Sometimes when people read this Gospel, they come to the conclusion that Jesus just walked up to four fishermen whom he had never met before and told them to follow him. It is clear, however, when looking at the all the Gospels that this is not accurate. Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. When John pointed the way to Jesus, Andrew met him for the first time. Then he went and got his brother Simon Peter. The Gospel according to John tells us that this introduction and the wedding at Cana and the conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well all happened before today’s Gospel. Indeed, Jesus’ disciples had even been baptizing people, more people than John the Baptist and his disciples.
The reason it is important to understand the real timeline is so that we understand the situation of Andrew and Simon and James and John when Jesus calls them from their fishing boats. If the Gospels were in movie form, the first film would be all about the many events that happened up to this point. The reading today is like the beginning of the sequel, where the old gang gets back together. Things are different now though. There were miracles before, like changing water into wine, but now Jesus is about to feed 5000 families with a couple of loaves of bread and some fish. There were healings before, but now Jesus is “curing every disease and illness among the people.” There was teaching before, but now Jesus “went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.”
So what happened? At the end of the first “film”, the end of the first part of Jesus’ ministry, he is baptized by John and then goes to wander in the desert for forty days. We can almost see Jesus walking off into the sunset while his disciples stand on the bank of the Jordan wondering, “Where is he going? Is he coming back?” If any tried to follow him, they were waved off. This journey in the desert was for him to make alone. Most likely they were unable to do or say anything after seeing the Holy Spirit land on him and hearing the voice of the Father say “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” They knew that they were following a holy man, a prophet like in the old stories. Perhaps it was only then that they realized whom they had been following. They realized what John the Baptist meant when he said that he was not worthy to unfasten Jesus’ sandal, so they went back to their homes, to their families, to their fishing boats. They went back to what they knew, to something they were capable of.
If there were no sequel, if Jesus had been simply a prophet, this would have been the end of the story. Simon and Andrew would have told their children about their strange experiences. They would remember, until the day they died, this man whom they had followed. They certainly would not have gone throughout the world, preaching the kingdom, and eventually dying for Jesus the Messiah.
Now we have arrived where we began with today’s Gospel. Jesus says to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Here is a command and a promise. “Come after me.” You followed me before; come follow me again. Despite your sins, despite your lack of faith, come follow me. Your fears do not matter. You are not worthy to come follow me, but, nevertheless, come follow me.
This promise from Jesus, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” ought to have been enough by itself to sustain the apostles through every trial. The one who made the promise is trustworthy. Jesus is not only a prophet about whom stories would be told. Everything will change now. If they come follow Jesus, he will make them fishers of men. He will make them fishers of men. Their weakness, their sinfulness, their doubts are beside the point. He does not say, “Come after me and I will expect you to be fishers of men” or “Come after me and I will give you some tips on how to become fishers of men.” The apostles were the artwork of Christ. He made them what they became.
There are some of you now who are following Jesus partially. I do not speak to you as if you did not know Jesus at all. He has a part in your life, but is he the center, is he the most important person in your life? Many people are living as if Jesus were a mildly interesting figure. The Gospel does not allow this to us. The Gospels are calling us to be religious extremists, to be radicals, to not count the cost, to go out into the deep. The way of Jesus is a narrow way. There is no room to be selfish and a Christian. There is no room to be greedy and a Christian. There is no room on this journey for all the baggage we carry.
There comes a point where Jesus calls us and we have to just follow him. This may not be at the beginning. At first we can spend some time with Christ, and he will let us draw close to him with all our misconceptions and faults, but the day will come when he asks for more. The day will come when he asks us for everything, and this will mean that we have to give up our plans if they are not his plans. If we submit, if we leave our own ideas behind like Simon and Andrew left their nets, like James and John left their father, then we can be a Christian.
Jesus is saying to each one of us, “Come follow me and I will make you….” Make us what? That is our vocation. Will he make you a fisher of men? Will he make you a servant of the poor? Will he make you a wise parent? I can only guarantee that whatever he will make you is far, far better than anything you can ever make yourself into. Go. Follow him. Be not afraid.