Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And He said unto them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they straightway left their nets and followed Him.
With the exception of St. Andrew, we have before us the calling of the first cluster of disciples who will form the inner core of the Twelve: Peter, James, and John. For, if we recall, these three are oftentimes privy to some of our Lord’s miracles that the others are not. We find them with Jesus at the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Lk. 8:40-56). They are with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-9), and especially they share with our Lord the communion of His Passion and the intimacy of His struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46). Our society, addicted as it is to egalitarianism, might very well take umbrage at this seemingly unfair and disproportionate show of favoritism, but our Lord isn’t doing anything different than any other master hasn’t done with his followers over the centuries. For reasons known only unto Him, Jesus hand selects Peter, James, and John, and then He hand crafts them, hones them, shapes them. And, then, of these three, Peter is elevated over time as the recognized leader of the Apostolic band – the first among equals. We are not privy to the calling of the others who will become the 12 Apostles and form the apostolic foundation of the Faith, with the exception, that is, of Philip and Nathanael (Jn. 1:43-51), and Matthew, who was called from the collecting of taxes to, presumably, the collecting of souls for the Lord, just as the four in today’s Gospel were to become fishers of men (Mt. 9:9).
In Sacred Scripture the call of God upon us is both a general call and a specific call. I remember in my youth how guilty I was always feeling because I could never live up to the “fisher of men” image popular at that time among Evangelical Christians. While others were notching their Bibles with the number of souls they won for the Lord during their fishing expeditions, I was not. Fishing for souls in the manner typically prescribed in those circles was not my thing. It was only later that I discovered that my call was not to be an evangelist per se. It wasn’t my spiritual gift in the Body of Christ. And, yet, like all Christians, I was called and was being called and am still being called, above all things, to follow Jesus Christ. “’Come, follow Me,’” He bids. The call to follow Christ God is the apostolic bid to all souls. For “Their voice has gone out through all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 18 :4; Rm. 10:18)! Peter, Andrew, James, and John – like all the rest of the Twelve – were called by Jesus, first, to follow Him and, then, to follow Him in a specific calling. “’Follow Me,’” says our Lord, “’and I will make you fishers of men.’” Peter and all the others will indeed become wise fishers of men in the school of Jesus Christ. Through them the Lord will drag the world into the net of the Kingdom of God (Pentecost Troparion)!
But, first, they will be discipled by Jesus, sit at His feet, eat and drink with Him, listen to His words that are Spirit and Life, watch Him minister to the multitude of needs, and debate the scribes and Pharisees and Sadduceees. Then, He will send them out with His divine authority to put into practice what they have seen and heard and have been taught by Him. For three years they will be trained and formed by His most holy hand, being conformed to the image of the Son of God (Rm. 8:28-30). Only then will He unleash them in the power of the Holy Spirit, sending them out into the world to “’make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; . . . .’” (Mt. 28:19-20; Ac. 1:8). Jesus calls and He is the One Who will take Andrew, Peter, James, and John from their boats and make them into fishers of men. Jesus calls us and He is the One Who will take us and make us into His disciples, making some of us to be evangelists graced with the gift of evangelism.
We see here how the Master goes to summon those who will follow Him. But, we must note the order: Jesus first calls, then comes the response: to follow Him as He has invited (maybe even commanded!) or not to follow. And the effect is pretty radical: “And they straightway left their nets and followed Him. . . . [I]mmediately [they] left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” This certainly recalls, if not reinforces, what we heard on the Feast of All Saints. “Then Peter answered and said unto [Jesus], ‘Behold we have forsaken all and followed Thee’” (Mt. 19:27). Jesus is clear: He will brook no competitors for our affection, for our loyalty, for our heart and soul. No one nor anything can be permitted to stand in the way of our following after Him when He calls us (Mt. 10:37-38; 19:28-30). We are not to return home first to bury our dead and then follow. We are not to first go say goodbye to our families and then follow after Jesus (Mt. 8:18-22; Lk. 9:57-62). These four fishers “immediately” leave behind everything because Jesus is worth it! “’He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,’” says our Lord (Mt. 10:37). For Peter and all the others, indeed, for all who have ever followed Jesus Christ in every time and every place, Jesus is worthy of such a sacrifice on the part of those whom He summons to Himself. Such sacrifice is proper worship offered to Him because true worship always entails sacrifice – an offering up to God. “Offering unto Thee Thine own of Thine own,” so the Church prays at the Holy Eucharist (Anaphora). So, “’he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me’” (Mt. 10:38). Discipleship is sacrifice. Discipleship is worship in the way of the Cross. A disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, lays down his life for the sake of the Master, that is, he denies himself so that, in return, he might offer himself to God and find Life Eternal, as promised by our Lord (Mt. 19:29). Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present [offer up] your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service [worship]” (Rm. 12:1).
The question for us is, “Is Jesus Christ the Son of God and Saviour of the world worth such an act on our part? Is He worthy of our self-sacrificing?” Or, perhaps asked differently, “Just how much is Jesus worth?” to which St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, once replied, “Jesus and His Kingdom is worth as much as you have.” It seems to me whenever we hear these accounts calling us to give up all things for the sake of our Lord and His Kingdom, we grow antsy and our anxiety levels elevate and we immediately start looking for the exceptions to the rule: “Yes………, but………….” It is true that some may make greater sacrifices than others in order to do what God bids them to do and be. Those who have been called specifically to serve Jesus and His Church oftentimes put dreams and ambitions and interests and other things on hold in order to follow Jesus, such as we have in today’s Gospel, and they do so without regret or complaint knowing that it is God Who blesses and rewards those whom He calls and who are obedient unto the Faith.
But, it is foundational that all who are numbered among the baptized disciples of Jesus Christ are to engender the same attitudes and mindset toward those things which get in the way or could get in the way of being faithful and obedient servants of God wherever we are found. What in our lives prohibit us from following Jesus when He summons us? And, why do we allow that to be? No matter if we are called to be fishers of men or laborers in the field of the Lord or doorkeepers in the House of our God or anything else, it is God Who calls and it is God Who gives us the grace to follow Him. For to us, beloved, has been given the Pentecostal Spirit of God Who gives what He commands. “’But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,’” our Lord assures His disciples of every time and every place (Lk. 24:49; Ac. 1:8). This is the very same Spirit of God Who has been preparing the hearts of these four fishers so that when the Word of God calls and speaks to their hearts, there is no other decision but to follow Him. It is not that they have no choice in the matter – God doesn’t violate our free will – but that the choice is, for all intents and purposes, a no brainer. “[N]o one can say that Jesus is Lord [- let alone follow Him! -] except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cr. 12:3). So, they all straightway left their boats and their nets, and even in the case of the sons of Zebedee – their father! – in order to follow the Master. “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”
Jesus bids us today, “”Come, follow Me.’” What will you do? Is He worth as much as you have?
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!