And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.Matthew 4:19-20
This account from the call of the disciples, which makes up part of this Sunday’s Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23, varies from the one that led us into the past week. In last week’s Gospel, John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Twice this was done. After the second announcement, Andrew and another of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus. In fact, so determined was Andrew to follow Jesus that he pointed Jesus out to his brother, Simon, whereupon Jesus renamed Simon, Cephas, which means Peter.
This week, in Matthew’s account of the call of the disciples, Jesus, who had just completed his fast in the wilderness of Judea, emerges and learns of the arrest of his cousin, John. No doubt, his heart was heavy upon learning of John’s arrest, for He would have been aware that there was only one fate awaiting John after this arrest. In fact, later in the Gospel according to Matthew, in chapter 14, we learn of John’s beheading. Can you imagine the mind of Jesus as he carried out his earthly ministry? So much not right: his ministry began with news of the arrest of his cousin, he would have spent about ½ of that ministry in the knowledge that his cousin would be beheaded, he knew that among his disciples was one who would deny him, he knew that among his disciples was another who would betray him and that that betrayal would lead to his death. Not to mention the harassment from the Pharisees and the High Priests. Yet, he carried out this ministry, and for 3½ years at that.
So, much was not right with his life here on earth. Yet, he did not allow that to distract him from what he had come here to do and so, he withdrew to Galilee. The account in today’s Gospel goes on further to say that he made his home in Capernaum, which was on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. As you go through the Gospels, the Sea of Galilee was an important point of transition signalling growth, change or something significant in Jesus’ ministry. And, in our Gospel today, it is no different: Jesus was about to transition from preparation into practice. Prior to this moment, he had somewhat been in hiding. Scour the Gospels and you will find few stories of him prior to his time in the wilderness. And, what does he do after having emerged from the wilderness? He goes to Capernaum, which is on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Arriving there, what does he do? As a sign that something new is about to take place, he calls others to follow him. He calls others to accompany him. He calls others to grow beyond what they had been used to.
At this point, I switch my focus to the collect for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany which reads in part, ‘Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation’. The collect could easily have read, ‘Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ’. However, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we pray for more than just the grace to answer the call, but also the grace to do something else for having answered the call. You see, my friends, answering the call (just as Jesus answered the call to become incarnate and dwell among us), requires something more, something else, something more than ‘Yes’. Answering the call, my friends, requires a transition.
Answering the call, requires movement, it requires going somewhere that places us in contact with others with whom we will work. Answering the call is not only about our personal journey. Answering the call, is also about incorporating others into a communal journey towards God.
So significant is the practice of moving to that place where we can connect with others that it is taught that the ministry of the ordained ought to be incarnate, just as Jesus was incarnate. What does that mean? Well, in order for Jesus to reconcile us with the Father, he didn’t stay in heaven. No, he moved: became as one of us (he supped with us, he walked amongst us, he talked to us in our places of worship and in other spaces, he dined with the taxpayers, he healed the lepers and the demon-possessed, he called children to him, and he interacted with women), so that he could connect with us. And sure, just as had taken place in the Old Testament, God could have chosen simply to broadcast His word through prophets, so that we would be guided back to God. However, God, in God’s wisdom, knew that, in order for there to be a transition (for Gentiles now to be included in the promise of salvation), he had to become incarnate and dwell among us. You see, it was no longer about maintaining a covenant with God’s chosen people. No, it was now a matter of bringing others into the New Covenant that was about to be established.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the time of year. We have entered two new years: a liturgical year (which began at Advent), and a calendar year. I wonder: has a transition taken place for us? Is the transition taking place for us? Has a transition even begun for us? Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in the north, in Capernaum on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, because he was about to transition into a larger ministry. He was about to set the stage for the incorporation of others into God’s covenant. He called Simon and Andrew who were casting their nets into the sea – for they were fishermen. But Jesus’ call promised that they would fish for people. They immediately left their nets and followed him. Going further, Jesus saw James and John with their father, Zebedee, and he called them. They were mending their nets. When they received the call, though, they left the boat, their father and the nets and they followed Jesus.
Transition Precedes Growth
Friends, as individuals, we have probably been yearning for growth, for a new thing. My question is this: are we prepared to transition? Are we prepared to move to the spiritual or philosophical north from the south to settle on the edge of the sea so that we can call others? What are we prepared to do? How are we prepared to change? Where are we prepared to go? Have we been mending the same old nets, like James and John?
Growth comes only after a transition. And that transition must begin in each of us. Each of us must be prepared to examine ourselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to hear God telling us who we are, who we are in Christ, and who we are called to be in order to fulfil God’s purpose. And, for having had that conversation with God, to listen next for what is required of us, for what is the transition that needs to take place in each of us, so that we can go out and fish for people.
The first four disciples who were called, had to leave their usual undertaking, to fish for people. They couldn’t remain where they were and do the work. And Jesus, the Way, provided that example: He left His Father’s heavenly kingdom; he became incarnate and dwelt among us (as Psalm 8 says, what are human beings that you are mindful of them; mortals that you care for them?). He left Nazareth to go north to Capernaum. He left to begin the transition; he left in order for growth to take place.
And we, what is the new thing that we are being called to? What is this fishing for people that we are being called to? How are we doing it? Are we committing our plans to the Lord? Proverbs 16 says, ‘The plans of the mind belong to mortals, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.’ It goes on to instruct us that we are to ‘commit our work to the Lord, and our plans will be established.’ Have we begun a process of committing our work to the Lord, so that, as in the story of creation, when God sees the outcome of our efforts, efforts undertaken under his guidance, he can say that it is good? Or are we hastily pursuing works without direction from the Holy Spirit. You will note that Jesus’ earthly ministry began with a period in the wilderness, which is where he was strengthened by the Spirit, which is where he prayed and received the strength of the Spirit. Luke 14:4 says, ‘then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.’
Are You Ready to Transition?
My friends, there is much to be done. There is much we would like to accomplish. There are many people to fish for. I know God has called us as individuals. I know many of us have answered. My question is this: are we ready to transition?
Until next time, I bid you the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit.
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