Matthew 4:12-23

A New Creation

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The Gospels preserve stories about how the very first disciples begin to follow Jesus long before his death and resurrection. These stories recall the past; they also describe the present. They tell what happens with these early disciples. They also illustrate what happens with subsequent disciples, even with you and me.

Sprinkled throughout today’s Gospel story are geographical references. These references are not accidental. They provide an important dimension of the story by revealing how Jesus acts in ways that are sure to surprise us.

Once John the Baptist’s ministry is over and done with, the time is ripe for the ministry of Jesus to begin. He does not go to some holy place, to some religious center. Instead, he withdraws to Galilee, heathen Galilee, Galilee of the Gentiles, a place where, according to Jewish belief, pure faith has been distorted.

Another name for this district is Zebulun and Naphtali. Centuries before, this part of Israel was the first to experience God’s devastating wrath inflicted by the king of Assyria. Now Zebulun and Naphtali is the place where salvation dawns.

It is to Capernaum, a city of this area, located on the Sea of Galilee, that Jesus goes. This is no quiet fishing spot. Capernaum is a bustling city. Commercial fishing amounts to big business here. From among the fishermen Jesus calls his first disciples.

And who are they? Two pairs of brothers. Peter and Andrew, James and John. Brothers who work shoulder to shoulder the family business. Such ordinary circumstances are not rejected through the call of Christ; they are enhanced. Brothers in the flesh become brothers in the faith. Those who harvest the wealth of the sea are made into fishers of people.

Thus Jesus does not go to some perfect place in search of disciples. He goes instead to a questionable place, one whose wounds cry out for immediate attention. He enters a city of bustle and business.

Jesus does not follow the rabbinical practice of waiting for students to approach him. Instead, he interrupts people at their work. And when he calls people to relationship with him, he does not forget that they are bound to others through ties of love and labor. As he speaks to James and John, Peter and Andrew, so too does he speak to us: through our circumstances, not in spite of them.

Christ calls his disciples as they are. They do nothing to deserve his invitation. In today’s Gospel, we hear no account of the merits of these four, but only of his call. Perhaps he calls people of consummate weakness in order so much the better to make his power known. The history of the apostles, the history of every Christian, when read aright shows that Christ does not call those who are fit, but makes fit whomsoever he calls. Only those ready and willing to receive this gift of transformation can hear the call of Christ.

Matthew’s interest in relating the call of the first disciples is clearly not in the psychology of conversion. Nor does he take interest in whether or not these men have had previous contact with Jesus. What captures the attention of Matthew is the creative power of what Jesus says, which brings about a new creation. In the beginning, the voice of the Lord called into existence one type of creature after another. Now this voice calls us into existence as new creatures. Fishermen are transformed into fishers for humanity.

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.” (v. 19).  Just as living requires that we breathe, to follow Christ is to engage in mission.

What the Christian is to do, what you and I are to do, is disarmingly simple. We are to follow Christ. This releases us from a great many burdens. Where we are is no obstacle to Christ. What we do is no obstacle to Christ. Who we are is no obstacle to Christ. He calls us in our circumstances, not in spite of them.

Our lack of fitness is no obstacle. Christ does not look for us to be fit, but makes us fit. Our call and our commission go together. By calling us, Christ equips us. He makes it possible for us to follow him, to participate in the mystery of his death and resurrection, and to make that mystery visible to others. This is what discipleship requires.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2004 The Very Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.