This is a story about the day Jesus called his first disciples.
Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its water isn’t much different from the clean mountain lakes here in far-Western North Carolina. Its shore line is; less of a steep drop off and more of a gentle glide, like the beach.
If this was a movie the camera would be following Jesus along this shore, watching over his shoulder as gets his first glimpse of Peter and Andrew. They’re knee-deep in the waves and hauling in a net of fish. Jesus walks right up to them and makes his funny invitation: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” “Immediately” they drop the nets and go (did a day’s work scatter back into their natural habitat?). Jesus sees James and John and calls them, too. “Immediately” they go as well, this time leaving behind not just nets but a boat and a (probably confused) dad.
That’s how the story went. But here’s how it should have gone:
Jesus: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Fishermen: “Follow you where? How long will we be gone? What will we do? How will we provide for ourselves? What about our jobs and families?”
Matthew gives us no indication that the disciples ask any of these valid questions. And yet they go – they leave their whole lives, everything, for a man they just met.
Maybe it’s because he came to them. Tradition was that a rabbi (teacher) was approached by potential students, not the other way around. And, as Rob Bell has pointed out, these disciples failed to make the cut long ago. They were not “the best of the best of the best” in their Torah studies, worthy of following a teacher. They were fishermen. But Jesus walked up to them. Jesus called them. Maybe that knocked their socks off and they decided to go.
Or maybe it’s because Jesus presented them with an intriguing cost and benefit. “Follow me,” he says, and there’s a cost that comes with following: leaving everything you’ve got behind. But Jesus also promises to make them fishers of men – which is kind of ambiguous, but kind of interesting. Maybe they went because the benefit felt worthy of the cost.
Or maybe Peter, Andrew, James, and John went “immediately” to follow this stranger because Jesus was going with them. Jesus didn’t say, “Go on ahead to Jerusalem; I’ll meet you there.” He said, “Follow me,” as in, “Go with me,” as in, “You don’t know what’s ahead but I’ll be there with you.” Maybe Jesus’ charisma made that proposition work.
But still. They just up and left! That’s crazy!
Eugene Boring claims this is a miracle, and maybe that’s the best way to think about it. A stranger walks up to four grown men with legit careers and family obligations and asks them to go, and they literally drop everything and follow him. That doesn’t even sound realistic! Who would do that?
I think Boring is right: It’s a miracle. And I think Boring is right about another thing. He says that Matthew doesn’t intend this to be exclusively about the first four disciples. Matthew writes this story so that it applies to the way Jesus calls all of us.
So this isn’t just a story about the day Jesus called the first disciples; this is also a story about the day Jesus calls us.
Jesus’ call to you may not involve all of the same elements. For starters: it’s a long shot that Jesus called you while you were fishing (although not impossible, as I think of a few friends who habitually post pictures of them holding freshly-caught fish). Even so, the first tug on your soul is likely to include:
- Someone – a person or the Holy Spirit or both – seeking you out.
- Someone (maybe that same someone) inviting you to follow Christ with them by coming to church or going on a retreat or mission trip.
- Understanding the cost involved when following Christ.
- But getting a sense that the benefits far outweigh the cost.
I grew up going to church, so when Jesus called me it felt more like a gradual get-to-know-you than an abrupt, “Nice to meet you, now follow me!” My parents took me to church most every Sunday. While sitting in church, the Holy Spirit began to invite me. No spoken words were involved, but the sense of invitation was so strong I actually felt guilty for not leaving home and setting out to “follow Christ.” (Where? How? I had no idea, which is probably why I never became a runaway.) Through church a few people stepped up to invite me to follow along with them – like an older woman named Margaret LeCompt, who sweetly saved me a seat at Church Council meetings when I became the youth representative. As my call became more specific, I realized the costs of living differently for Christ. Thankfully, I was follow Christ with a great youth director and youth intern. They showed me that being Christian could also be really fun; they showed me that the benefits far outweighed the cost.
But that’s just me. How did Christ call you? How is Christ calling you right now? What does it feel like?
So this story is about more than just the disciples. It’s about us, too.
But even more than that: this is a story about the way we call others into life with Christ.
Among the “costs” of following Christ, perhaps this responsibility to share our faith tops many lists. It can feel awkward to invite someone to church. It can feel very personal to talk about what we believe. But just as this was part of the benefit for the first disciples (“I will make you fishers of people”) it’s part of the package for us, too.
Fortunately, we have a good example that can make this easier.
As Christ did, we can go to those who need inviting. We don’t sit and wait for people to show up in church; we go to where they are and invite them in. This doesn’t mean that the first words out of our mouth can or should be, “Follow Jesus!” Jesus worked a miracle with the disciples; it will probably happen at a slower pace for us. Make friends. If your only friends are people who go to church, then especially: make some more friends. Go to them. Be with them. Genuinely love them.
And don’t forget: you are not the first to go to them. The Holy Spirit is already there.
As Christ did, we can invite someone to go with us. There’s a big difference between, “You should come to church sometime!” and, “Wanna come with me this Sunday? I’ll wait for you by the door.” Offer to pick someone up or save them a seat. Invite them to come to a mission project so you can work together. It’s a lot easier to say “yes” when someone is willing to guide us through.
And as Christ did, you might honestly present the cost and benefit of being a Christian. Jesus didn’t come to make us comfortable. Following Christ can be hard, but we are infinitely better for it. We are set free from sin in order to be slaves to God and to each other. What is the cost and benefit for you? If the benefits far outweigh the costs, then that’s a pretty intriguing reason to see what it’s like to go where Jesus is leading.
This is a story about Jesus.
The Jesus who could gather followers with just ten spoken words.
The Jesus who is inviting us to follow him today.
The Jesus who will use us to invite others.
A miracle happened when he called his first disciples and they left everything to follow him.
Don’t doubt that a miracle won’t occur again today.