In our Gospel reading today we hear about the call of the very first disciples right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—first Simon Peter and Andrew then James and John.
You might think that these very first disciples were a bit simple. While they are busy working at their everyday tasks as fishermen Jesus comes up and asks them to follow him. They immediately drop their nets and do just that, they follow him.
This seems to us to be quite a rash act, something rather unwise and unconsidered. They know almost nothing about this man who wants them to become his disciples and yet they drop everything and follow him. And we know from the Gospels it literally did mean following him because Jesus soon takes off on a whole series of journeys around Palestine.
We are told that Jesus had already begun his preaching; but at this early stage he wasn’t well known and they could only have been a few who heard him. We aren’t actually told in the text whether these first disciples had already heard his preaching or not. Yet even if they had heard Jesus preaching, they couldn’t have known very much about him or understood any of the implications of his message.
Their actions do not sound like the behaviour of prudent or responsible men. And yet in these few verses we have the very beginnings of the Church of God on earth. And these reckless and impulsive men become the models for all subsequent members of the Church. We are not told their motives or any of their thought processes, just the bare fact that they left their nets and boats and followed Jesus. There are no whys and wherefores recorded for us, just the simple actions of leaving and following.
All this would have seemed quite strange to Matthew’s Jewish readers because their custom was for the disciple to search out and choose the master. But here it is clearly Jesus who takes the initiative —he calls, they follow.
One possible conclusion we might come to is how extraordinary attractive Jesus must have been; his command must have been absolutely compelling. We are told that the two sets of disciples both ‘immediately’ leave what they are doing and follow him. The charisma of Jesus is underlined by Matthew who indicates, in the very next sentence after our chosen text, that his fame went ahead of him throughout the province.
In the few lines of the Gospel given for today we see how Jesus picks up where John the Baptist left off. We are told that he has come to fulfil the scriptures, that he will bring light to the people; we are introduced to Jesus’ inner group of disciples and see how they are called. And we are told about his ministry of healing among the crowds that flocked to hear him.
Jesus came to bring light to those who live in darkness. Those who are in the dark about what God plans for the world will be enlightened. They will, through Jesus’ preaching, discover that God loves them and brings them salvation in the very fullest sense. Their eyes will be opened and they will see things now from God’s point of view.
Besides appreciating the attractiveness of Jesus’ personality the first disciples suddenly have the insight that this man Jesus is the one who knows the answers to all their questions, the one who can help them to achieve a completely new perspective on life. This is why they leave everything and follow him. They suddenly understand that Jesus can give them the only thing worth having —knowledge of God.
The same goes for us. It is this realisation that the only real answers to the great questions of life are to be found in Jesus that triggers our desire to follow him. Unlike the disciples we don’t actually see the man, all we have are his words recorded in the Gospels. And yet still we have chosen to follow him. It must be because we have been given the insight to see that he really is the way, the truth and the life, just as he claimed to be. This is surely the action of God’s grace in our lives.
We are the Apostles for the world we inhabit. It is our task to become so well acquainted with the message of Jesus that we can teach it to others. We therefore need to immerse ourselves in the Gospel, to become completely familiar with the words of Jesus and know him deeply through a lively conversation with him in prayer. It is only when we do these things that we will become effective in our task.
This sounds like a lot to live up to. It sounds perhaps more than we bargained for. It might even be something we are very reluctant to do. But be clear, this is our mission; this is our God given task. He chose us; we did not choose him. His grace has been quietly acting in our lives all along. We might think that we are not worthy or able for the task but he knows best.
Those first Apostles weren’t made of very promising material and I don’t suppose we are either. And even while they were with him they misunderstood his intentions and went so far as to desert and even deny him. And yet these were the ones he chose; they were the ones on whom he built his Church.
They deserted him but he did not desert them. And when Jesus ascended to the Father he bequeathed them his Holy Spirit to be with them as a guide and protector. This same Spirit has been poured out on us and he is with us in this great task we have been given to make Christ known to the world.
In taking up this task, like the first Apostles, we will find that there are things we must leave behind. And like them too, this is a journey we embark on without knowing where it will lead us. But it is a journey of faith, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and undertaken on behalf of Jesus Christ himself. We are his ambassadors, we are his Apostles, we are his messengers of love to the world. How can we refuse such a mission?
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket