Today, Matthew gives us the opportunity to think about what it means to be his disciple. The scene is a familiar one. We picture in our mind’s eye Simon and Andrew standing on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. They are throwing a circular weighted net into the shallow water again, and again, and again, hoping to catch a few fish who have no clue they might be dinner tonight! It’s a hot, sunny day. Sweat is running down their faces. The background music begins to swell.
Both of them look up. They see a white robed figure walking toward them from a distance. The music gets louder and louder until this strange and mysterious man is right in front of them. He has piercing brown eyes that look like they can stare into the bottom of your soul. Slowly, he speaks, with the best Alec Baldwin voice he can muster, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Then Simon and Andrew, their eyes wide with wonder, drop their net at the edge of the sea, and follow Jesus without a moment’s hesitation. As they follow this mysterious man, we hear their mama’s voice echoing in the background, “Simon! Andrew! Where are you going? Who is that man?”
What is it about the story of Jesus calling his first disciples that makes us think it’s some magical, mystical event? Week after week, we keep coming here hoping to have a similar experience to the one described in today’s gospel lesson. We listen for the background music to swell and strain our ears to hear our Savior’s voice…but NOTHING happens! It’s disappointing to say the least! Where is Alec Baldwin when you need him?
The result of this waiting for something magical to happen is that we never claim for ourselves Jesus’ call to be a disciple. We leave it in the hands of “trained professionals” like pastors and associates in ministry, whom we assume had that magical, mystical experience somewhere along the way. Well, friends in Christ, I have to confess to you this morning I never had that magical, mystical experience. The call of Christ on my life has been a gradual and evolving process. Even in college I was a skateboarding, guitar-playing, chemistry major. I wasn’t exactly the kind of person one would think would make a great pastor. If you had told me my freshman year I would be going to seminary when I graduated from college, I probably would have laughed.
You see, I have come to believe that the call to be a disciple of Christ is a daily calling that has little to do with mystical experiences and inaudible voices in our heads telling us what to do next. The call of Christ is serving him faithfully minute by minute, decision by decision, opportunity by opportunity. If we keep waiting for something big and magical to happen, then nothing will probably happen! We will miss the thousands of small, everyday opportunities to serve Christ in our families, our church, and the community at large.
Today, I’d like to take a closer look at the way Matthew frames the call story because I believe he left us several clues about what it means to be a disciple. The first place we need to examine is in the verses on the front end of the story. Matthew frames Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant. He says Jesus made Capernaum his home base so that Isaiah’s prophecy might be fulfilled. Here are Isaiah’s words from our first lesson: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” [Is 9:2]
Jesus is the light that shines in a land of deep darkness. Later, in chapter 5, Matthew reminds us that this is what we’re supposed to do as disciples of Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” [Matt 5:14-16]
The first thing that we learn is that disciples of Jesus are called to shine their light. This doesn’t mean we all need to be Hollywood floodlights or blazing bonfires. Sometimes we are simple candles or LED flashlights on our cell phones! The important thing is that we shine, just like Jesus shined, in a land of deep darkness. Let’s face it, our world is a pretty dark place sometimes. I believe the old saying is true “I cannot do all the good the word needs, but the world needs all the good I can do.” Being a disciple of Christ is not about big flashy, magical experiences. It’s a lot smaller and more intimate as we shine the light of Christ in the lives of those around us.
The second thing that’s interesting about the Isaiah passage Matthew references are the verses which follow. Unfortunately, they are not a part of our first lesson. but they should be! Let me read them to you: “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” [Is 9:4-6] I believe Matthew is trying to telling us that Jesus, as the suffering servant, is a peacemaker. In fact, toward the end of the Isaiah passage, the suffering servant is even called the “Prince of Peace.” [Is 9:6]
Therefore, the second thing we learn is that disciples of Jesus are called to be peacemakers. Again, this doesn’t have to be some magical, mystical experience. We don’t have to work for the United Nations or become involved with Amnesty International. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers in the places that are closest to us: our families, our friends, our church, our workplace and schools. Trust me, that’s enough to keep us busy! We become peacemakers in these places not by grand, sweeping gestures. We become peacemakers moment by moment by what we say and do. It is some of the most challenging work we are called to undertake as disciples of Christ.
The next point Matthew makes about Jesus is a bit strange at first glance. He says “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'” The reason why this is strange is that Jesus never says this anywhere else in the entire gospel of Matthew! He is quoted as saying “the kingdom of heaven has come near” but it is not tied to the message of repentance. Instead, it is paired with the command to “proclaim the good news.” [Mt 10:7]
I gave this inconsistency some thought this week. The Greek verb “repent,” METANOIA, means to turn around. Repentance in biblical thought, involves not merely apology, but change: change in direction, change in behavior, change in our lives. This tells me that when the kingdom of heaven comes near, change is gonna happen! This is consistent with what Jesus said and did throughout the gospel of Matthew even though the word “repent” is not uttered from his lips.
Therefore, the third thing we learn is that disciples of Jesus are called to be agents of change. We’re not supposed to be passive pew sitters. We’re supposed to be living, breathing signs of Christ’s kingdom. This means we’re gonna have to change some things about ourselves and about the way we interact with others. Again, this doesn’t have to happen with grand, sweeping gestures. Instead, it involves our daily struggle with the sinner that lurks inside us and tries to drag us down. It’s fighting the temptation to want “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” but instead make the effort to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” [Mt 5:44] Interestingly enough, this command also appears in Matthew 5, a few verses after Jesus tells us to let our light shine. This shows us that disciples are called to be agents of change. However, most of this change should probably begin with us!
The final verses I’d like to look at are the ones that follow the call story. Matthew says “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”
Therefore, the fourth thing we learn is that disciples of Jesus are called to be teachers, proclaimers and healers. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to go to seminary or a Bible college. We don’t need to perform miraculous healing miracles like our Savior did. Being a disciple of Jesus means we are called to share the story of what Christ has done and is doing in our lives. We are called to be healers in the sense that our words and actions bring no harm to others. Instead they are a source of love and encouragement in their lives.
Friends in Christ, we all secretly wish that our call to be a disciple would be as dramatic as those found in our gospel lesson for today. However, if we’ve been listening to what Matthew is trying to tell us, he reminds us that being a disciple is a lot less flashy than that. It involves shining our light in a land of deep darkness, becoming peacemakers and agents of change. It means being willing to be teachers, proclaimers and healers. The goal is that all people we meet will experience the love of Jesus in their lives and be transformed by it. Are we up for the challenge? Let’s roll up our sleeves and get the job done! AMEN
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck