Wednesday, January 18, 2017


He Qi 'Calling Disciples' (2001)
A little oddly, perhaps, the appearance of the disciples Andrew and Peter, which John's Gospel recounted last week, is repeated this week in Matthew's version.  There are some important differences between the two, however. The fourth evangelist tells the story in connection with John the Baptist. Matthew makes only a brief mention of John, and links the story more directly with with the prophet Isaiah. Jesus, he declares, is the light that Isaiah prophesied would eventually dawn on those who sit 'in the region and shadow of death'. 
It is with this alternative context in mind that Matthew introduces Andrew and Peter. But there is a further subtle and important difference. In John’s version, Andrew and Peter take the initiative in seeking Jesus out. In Matthew’s version, it is Jesus who encounters them fishing and calls them , as he does James and John. What is more, he calls them to leave not only the work they are engaged in, but everything that they have. Their response is usually held up as exemplary. 'Immediately they left their nets and followed him'. But what about Zebedee who is left sitting in the boat?  Has he no claim on the sons he has raised, and on whose labor he will depend in old age?

 Matthew’s version of the call to the disciples is echoed in many other parts of the Gospel. Following Jesus is repeatedly spoken of as being all consuming, even to the point of abandoning family responsibilities. Doesn’t this mean that Christian discipleship requires a kind of fanaticism? How could we answer such a call ourselves, given our love for parents and children, our belief in the value of what we do, and our obligations to the wider community?

Vassily Polenv James and John (1904)
Elsewhere, confronted with questions like these, Jesus allows that for many people wholesale commitment of this kind is just not possible, but he promises that God can work with less than this. It is enough to start with simple penitence, seek more and more ways in which ordinary life puts Christ first, and relinquish rival claimants to our most fundamental allegiance. The Epistle for this Sunday illustrates just how easy it is to fall into subsidiary loyalties. The loyalties for which St Paul chastises the Corinthian Christians mean nothing to us now. But we have our own rivals for Christ’s headship – family, nation, profession, ethnic group, sports team. If few of us can respond as immediately as the twelve disciples did, we can at least resolve to take more steps in their direction. What matters, is where the heart is, and whether we can truly say with the Psalmist, ‘One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life’.

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