The Calling of the First Disciples

Matthew 4:17-23

Jesus calls the fishermen Andrew, Simon, James and John to follow him, and they do so immediately. Why would anyone make such a rash decision? If a man walked up to me at work, asked me to leave my job and demanded that I follow him, I imagine some questions would follow.

Q: Where are we going?
A: You are going with me. Wherever I go, there you’ll be.

Q: What are we going to do?
A: Perform miraculous healings and exorcisms. Tell people that the new age is just around the corner. Tell people to repent and follow God’s perfect law, which I will teach you along the way. Gather people into a community that’s ready for the coming judgment of God. Things like that.

Q: How long am I going to be gone?
A: Forever. Don’t plan on ever returning to your life the way it is now.

Q: When are we going to leave?
A: Right now.

Q: Can I take my car?
A: No. You can’t take anything. You have to leave it all behind.

Q: How much luggage can I take?
A: None. When I said you can’t take anything, I meant it.

Q: How will I earn a living?
A: You won’t. You will depend on the kindness of strangers.

Q: Can I talk to my family about it?
A: No. You have to decide right now.

We should admit that such a proposition would be very strange to us. It strikes us as something as either very foolish or very crazy. Unfortunately, we’ve seen enough of charismatic leaders of religious cults. It’s hard for us to understand the attraction of a David Koresh or Jim Jones. It’s only those who are more than a little off balance who heed the call to leave home to wait for the apocalypse. It’s only crazy people who sit in airports begging for a handout.

I wonder if Simon and Andrew, James and John really knew what they were getting themselves in for? From the earliest days, it was clear that Jesus preached repentance and the coming kingdom of God. He cast out demons and performed miracles of healing.

I wonder if they knew how many sick, poor, broken and needy people would be a part of their lives. I wonder if they knew how may outcasts and disrespectable people would sit at Jesus’ table. I wonder if they knew that the sinners Jesus called would be actual sinners with real, ugly sins.

Their lives would not only be filled with the world’s guilt and brokenness, they would also be filled with danger. They would sail through storms, face angry mobs and follow Jesus to the cross.

I wonder if they truly realized what Jesus was asking from them. They left everything behind to follow Jesus on the road. They left the comfort provided by work and family, the quiet enjoyment of their homes and the predictability of their daily routines. Jesus would demand radical obedience to difficult teachings. He would call them to live in a manner that portrayed the perfect will of God which would characterize the age to come. He would call them to live in a manner that demonstrated God’s costly, self-giving grace.

All of us who decide to follow Christ walk in Andrew and Simon’s shoes. None of us know where the path of discipleship will take us.

So how did Jesus do it? How did he convince these fishermen to give up everything they had and everything they knew to follow him.

It’s not necessary to posit that Matthew 4:18-22 records Jesus’ only contact with the four fishermen. Matthew tells us that Jesus lived in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13) which was situated on the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was also Simon’s home (Matthew 8:5, Matthew 8:14). The Fourth Gospel says that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40). The baptizer pointed at Jesus and told Andrew, “Behold the Lamb of God.” John reports that Andrew called Jesus “rabbi” (or “teacher”) and that he told his brother Simon that he had found the messiah (John 1:35-41). Matthew also connects Jesus’ family with that of James and John in his crucifixion narrative. Both the mother of Jesus and the mother of James and John were present together when Jesus died (Matthew 27:56). So, there are a number of possible connections between Jesus and Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John.

Whatever the disciples knew about Jesus, the decision to follow him ultimately came down to a matter of choice. Jesus’ call is direct and unavoidable: “Follow me.” Appropriately, the disciples’ response is immediate and unconditional. Note that Matthew uses the word “immediately” in his description of how each pair of brothers responded to Jesus (Matthew 4:20, Matthew 4:22).

The modern mind wants to know the detail behind the story. Did the disciples know Jesus? Had they heard his message and thought it over? How can someone just drop everything based on a single sentence from a wandering preacher? Matthew cares for none of this. His point is clear: the proper response to a divine call is immediate and unconditional obedience.

Today, the circumstances of Christ’s call are different. Our discipleship does not consist, for the most part, in living as wandering beggars who cast out demons and heal people. Still, the call of Christ demands a life-changing response that costs us everything and connects us to Christ and the body of believers, in the hope of the coming kingdom of God. To that, Matthew would certainly add, “and calls us to learn and obey Christ’s commands, properly interpreted by the living presence of the risen Christ himself.”