Read Matthew 4.12-23
Imagine yourself thumbing through the want ads and you run across this ad:
*Room and Board When Available
*Leave Behind Your Family and Friends
*Travel Day and Night through Hostile Territory
*Make friends with IRS agents
*Bandage the wounds of people with contagious diseases.
*Tell people everywhere things they don’t want to hear.
After the execution of John the Baptist, Jesus felt an urgency to begin his ministry, to recruit followers and pick up where John left off, sharing the good news that the kingdom is at hand. The time is right. God’s kingdom is just around the corner.
As Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee, he spots two fishermen: Simon and Andrew casting nets. He says to them, “Follow me and I’ll put your gifts to use for people, not just fish.” The two drop what they’re doing and follow him.
Then, further up the shore, he spots two more – James and John and he says, “Follow me,” and they leave their father mending the net and run off to join this growing band of followers, not knowing where they’re going, not even knowing much about the one who is leading them there.
How did Jesus decide who he would call? Was it just a random process or did he screen his candidates, do a background check? And how did the fishermen know to trust this man they had just met? What was it about him that was so attractive, so compelling, that they would leave their families, their jobs at the drop of a simple request, “Follow me”?
Though we don’t know what standards Jesus used, we do know that those he called were common laborers. Many of them were poor, hard workers barely making ends meet. From the story we’ve read today, you might think to be a follower of Jesus you had to be in fishing business, but we know from later stories that Jesus called others. Tax collectors. Rebels. Religious leaders. They were more different than they were alike, with different ideas, different skills, and different lifestyles.
We know that Jesus took heat from the religious leaders of his day for not using higher standards, for accepting women and agents of Rome and hot heads who had little training in the sacred Scriptures and traditions. Those Jesus called were common men and women with no claim to fame, no special gift recognized by others – just simple people willing to follow where he led them, willing to leave behind what they had and follow him to places they’d never seen. They were common, but they were also adventurers. They made up for what they lacked in formal schooling with deep trust in God, and a strong conviction that God could and would make a new thing happen in this man Jesus.
Jesus gathers diverse folks together like a farmer plants a variety of crops and then allows them to grow, tending them as they need it, pulling at the weeds that sneak through. This demonstration plot of people is gathered to show the world just what God can and will do, if we respond when we hear, “Follow me.”
What did they see in Jesus? We know at this point he was a rugged young man in his thirties, able to withstand days and nights in the wilderness- alone- battling temptation from all sides. We know that he was a humble man, receiving baptism from John who thought Jesus ought to be baptizing him. Jesus looked a lot like those he called, and yet, they could see in him something special, something they could trust, a conviction they could believe in. And so when he said, “Follow me.” They did just that.
But maybe a more important question is not “Who were the disciples?” or “How did they respond?” The question for us is how do we respond when we hear “Follow me.” Do we trust, drop what we’re doing and follow? Do we leave behind who we are and what we’ve done, and open ourselves up to something new.
In a sense, though, who we are and what we’ve done is not left behind. God simply transforms it for His own purposes. The fisherman never stopped fishing even after Jesus called them. “Come with me, said Jesus, and I will make you fish for people.” God uses what we have. God takes what we do best and makes it even better.