“Come, follow me”
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I wonder how many times we have heard the story of the call of the first disciples. Jesus is walking on the shore of Lake Galilee, and sees some fishermen. He says to them, “Come, follow me – and they leave their nets and follow him. That story is so familiar that we can easily forget its strangeness. What could it have been about Jesus that prompted Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him and be his disciples? They can’t have known much about him: this was at the very beginning of his ministry, they were taking a great risk, a leap into the unknown.
- Maybe they had been among those who had heard John the Baptist’s call to repent. Perhaps their settled lives had already been unsettled by the uncompromising directness of John the Baptist’s message. And maybe they were among the many who were expecting the Messiah to come – and realised that Jesus might just be he. Maybe there was something about Jesus – the power of his preaching, his miracles (although at this point it is not clear that he had performed any) – which they found compelling. Or maybe they were disillusioned with the mainstream religion of their time, and were looking for something different – and saw this in Jesus.
- Of course we don’t really know what it was that caused the hearts of those first disciples to be aroused by Jesus’ call to follow him. But notice the words which Jesus used. “Come, follow me – and I will make you fishers of men”.
- Was this just a play on words? or did it somehow strike home in a deeper way? Did it perhaps show Andrew and Peter that they had skills that could be used in God’s service? Perhaps they saw the possibility of a life dedicated to something bigger, something more lasting, than catching fish, just going out in their boats from day to day, making a living, their lives going nowhere in particular.
We don’t know just how far we can interpret these words of Jesus in this way. But what is clear is that Jesus saw them as his evangelists, his missionaries, his messengers – people who could recruit others for God’s kingdom. The image of catching people like fish may have been crude, but it has stuck and is memorable. Maybe Peter and Andrew suddenly realised that they had more to offer to God than just catching fish.
“Come, follow me”. When Jesus spoke those words he wasn’t just speaking to a few people in Galilee two thousand years ago. They are words which are addressed to all of us. They are an invitation – an invitation to a life centred not just on ourselves, but on God. An invitation to us too to be Jesus’ disciples.
When Peter and Andrew, James and John left their nets and followed Jesus, they can have had no idea where this would lead them. They probably did not expect, at first, that their whole lives would be given to God in a new way. They would have had no idea of the risks, dangers and sacrifices which would be involved. For the Christian life does involve risks, dangers and sacrifices – for most of us ordinary Christians as well as for the saints. Could those first disciples have realised the full consequences of Jesus’ revolutionary commands to love one’s enemies, to forgive seventy times seven times, to lead lives based on the principle of going the extra mile, rather than just doing the minimum which was expected of them? Those three commands alone could change the world – from being a world racked and ravaged by violence and revenge to one where love and service were the driving forces for mankind.
So when Jesus calls us to follow him, we need to face up to the full meaning of commands such as those – knowing that they are not easy for anyone, that we all find them difficult, and we probably fail repeatedly.
But Jesus must have known that those he called to follow him were not going to be perfect people – he had to take his servants, his disciples, as they were – hoping of course that they would grow in faith and love, in courage and resolve – but knowing that they would also fall short of what he needed from them. He knew though, that each of them had something to give to God. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”. The fishermen must have known how to be patient; to wait for hours for a catch. They must have known how to be trustworthy – a group of people in a small boat in a storm must know that each of them can trust the others. And they must have had enough determination to make their catch, even at times when this was difficult.
“Come, follow me”. We are not all called to be put families and friends aside, and become missionaries on the other side of the world. But we are all called to find out the direction in which Jesus is calling us to follow him. And this means remembering that God has given us all skills and gifts. We have to ask ourselves, “To what extent do we use them for him?” For many people this means using them for the benefit of those around us – our neighbours, both here and further afield. For God is to be found in those around us – not just here in church on Sundays, but in the people with whom we share our lives, those with whom we work – all of whom are individuals with hopes and fears, needs and dreams. The path of discipleship is never exactly the same for any two people – it is up to us to find which path God has planned for us.
When the explorer and missionary David Livingstone was a young man, a neighbour, a man called David Hogg, on his death bed had said to him: "Now, lad, make religion the every-day business of your life, not a thing of fits and starts”.
Our task is to turn the fits and starts into something more sustained, more lasting, in which we are less prone to being thrown off course by the competing claims of the world around us. The path of discipleship is never easy. It’s very tempting to be diverted into in the byways and the dead ends of the path itself. So from time to time we need to hear afresh those words of Jesus, which speak to us so clearly from the shores of Galilee – “Come, follow me”.