Continuing with the theme of “what the heck are the authorsof the lectionary trying to pull,” I want to look at Sunday’s gospel lesson as a completely different approach to conversion and discipleship. This past Sunday, I stood in the pulpit and proclaimed that “words were not enough” and that “you have to experience Jesus in order to understand what salvation really is.” This coming Sunday’s gospel lesson seems to throw that out the window. (Or does it?)
Jesus was walking along when he saw Simon Peter and Andrew in their boat. Matthew tells us that these two were fishermen and that Jesus called out to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their boat and followed Jesus. Similarly, when he passed by James and John, who were working as tradesmen who mended fishing nets, Jesus called out to them, and they left their trade and followed him. These are examples of instantaneous call-and-response. Jesus called, and the would-be disciples answered. Never mind that they were leaving their careers behind. Never mind that they had families to take care of. Never mind that they had just met Jesus. They dropped everything to follow him. The implication is that we should do likewise.
But what about prayerful evaluation, study, and discernment? How many of us would or could drop everything if Jesus called us? Sure, we’d like to say that we would or could do that, but I don’t know how realistic that is. Can we get up, leave everything behind, and follow Jesus in an instant?
It is worth noting, as Davies and Allison write in their ICC commentary, that unlike most rabbi-disciple relationships, Jesus chose his followers rather than the other way around. The same is true today. Usually, students come up to teachers/masters and say, “May I follow you?” Think about Forrest Gump running across the country and gaining a following. People just started following him. He never invited anyone to run behind him. Not so with Jesus. Jesus looks at the disciples and says, “Come on, guys. Follow me!” There’s something charismatic, compelling, and transformative about Jesus.
Had Peter, Andrew, James, and John heard about Jesus before he actually called them? Possibly—maybe even probably. Did it matter? Not really. When Jesus called, they answered. Did they have a conversion experience? Well, it took the disciples a long time (maybe not even until after the resurrection) to piece together exactly who he was. But still they had a moment where they got up and gave their lives to him. But who was it who called? Jesus himself. It’s portrayed for us as a momentary call, and that might be exactly how it happened. But it’s still Jesus who does the calling. He’s the one who looks at them and says, “I have a plan for you. I will make you fishers for people. Come and follow me.” That alone, it seems, is enough.