Illustration by Phil Younk
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Based on the Gospel of Matthew 4:12-23
Time continues to move on. After his baptism by John the Baptist, followed by 40 days spent in prayer in the desert, and then John’s imprisonment, Jesus leaves Nazareth to begin his public ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing – not in large cities like Jerusalem, Alexandria or Athens but in the little fishing village of Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Throngs of people gather to listen and follow him.
From St. John’s Gospel last week Sunday, we know Jesus previously met and spent time with the four apostles whom he will call suddenly in this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus and the four apostles gradually got to know and trust each other before Jesus reveals his identity as the Messiah and calls them to full-time discipleship.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is walking along the seashore and sees two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, casting their nets to catch fish. He calls out to them, “Come, after me and I will make you fishers of men.” They leave their nets and follow Jesus.
Further along the shore Jesus sees James and John who are in a boat mending nets with their father Zebedee. He calls out to them, too. They leave their father in the boat with the hired men and follow Jesus.
How quickly they all responded. There were no interviews, no job descriptions, no salary – just Jesus’ promise they will catch “bigger fish.” They know the kind of life Jesus is calling them to and they are willing to accept it. They drop everything and leave their families and the fishing business – boats, nets, crews and an important, thriving industry – to follow Jesus.
These two sets of brothers are the first followers of Jesus, but also Jesus’ first apostles (from the Greek word “apostolos” which means a person who is “sent,” a messenger). What did Jesus mean when he said, “I will make you fishers of men”? Growing in their love for Jesus, the apostles will help carry on his work, spread the teachings of Jesus, and talk about God’s great love for all people, heal the sick and forgive sins. People will learn to know, to love and to follow Jesus.
Just as for the apostles, nothing is more important for us than following Jesus. We don’t need to leave anyone or anything. Jesus says, “Come after me. Spend time with me in prayer, come to Mass and listen to my Word and visit me in the Blessed Sacrament.” We can follow Jesus right where we are by the way we live – by being obedient to God’s rules; by being good, kind, and helpful; by sharing; by helping the poor and sick; by visiting the lonely – using our talents and abilities to love God and others. By our words and actions we can bring others to Jesus. Jesus continues to call, “Come after me.”