THIRD SUNDAY A
Jesus gave James and John an interesting nickname. He called them Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder.” It’s probably because when James and John left their boat, nets and father behind, their old man went off like a thunderstorm: “Hey, where are you knuckleheads going? Get back here right now! We’ve got work to do you know. We gotta finish mending these nets, then we have to fold ‘em up. I said you get back here you matza balls. Who do you think you are walking away from me.” Old Zebedee probably had no idea who this Jesus guy was, or why his boys were following him, he must have been at least a little ticked off to be sitting in that boat all by himself watching James and John running away with Simon and Andrew.
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew and James and John were fishermen. Catching fish was their trade. It kept their families fed. Fishing was the main industry of that part of Galilee; the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, Isaiah spoke about. That region of Galilee was a backwoods part of the northern kingdom of Israel, where nothing happened. No one important lived in that region. The people were seen as poor, uneducated hicks. And Jesus was one of them. He had the same dialect, he was the son of a carpenter, he didn'teven fish. The Messiah was not supposed to come from that part of Israel. The Son of God would never have come from a place like Nazareth. And yet, Peter and Andrew, and James and John walked away to follow him.
Our translation of Matthew’s gospel places these words in Jesus’ mouth, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” I would like for us to reflect upon those first three words. He said, “Come after me.” Jesus wanted them to follow behind him so that they could watch what he did, so that they could learn what it means to be catchers of men. He wanted to make sure they could observe him. He wanted them to see him in action so that he could prove to them he was the Messiah.
“Come after me.” What an interesting choice of words. Follow behind me and let my word be a lamp to guide your feet. Come after me, and I will teach you how to live the gospel. Walk in my footsteps and I will show you what it means to be disciples. Stay close behind me and I will show you how to take up your cross, to die to yourselves for the good of others. Come after me, and I will bring you to salvation.
But how often do we say, “No thanks, I believe I will go my own way. No thanks, I don’t need to know the Gospel, I’ll just be good and nice and live a comfortable life and not cause anybody any harm. If I can say my own prayers and be my own person I will be perfectly happy with my life.” This is what God’s people have said for thousands of years now. Isaiah the Prophet described the people Zebulun and Naphtali as people who walked in darkness because they refused to listen to the word of God, they refused to obey the commandments and they were unfaithful to the covenant God gave them. They lived in darkness because they chose disobedience to God’s will, and in their sin they were made weak.
“Come after me.” We don’t always like to be followers who must obey the commands of another leader. We’re Americans, we don’t think that way. We think of doing it our own way because that’s the American Dream. We don’t want to be subservient to the demands of a Gospel that tells us we are to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. We don’t even want to read the Gospel let alone live it. But in so many ways we are a people who walk in darkness. We are being torn apart by immorality and sin. We are divided by those who say they have all the answers on the right, and those who say they have all the answers on the left, and no one does anything to help the poor who live in between them. We call ourselves a Christian nation, but we refuse to pray, to worship, and to love as Christ demands.
“Come after me.” These are challenging words for us because we are being told that we cannot find our own way to salvation, we must walk in the path of Christ whose word illuminates our way and shows us what it means to be disciples. But on an even deeper, more personal level, these three words “Come after me” demand a response from us; “No thanks, I will just go fishing for my own salvation,” or “Yes, I will follow you, I will learn from you to live and speak the gospel, I will let you show me the way to salvation. I will try to be a fisher of men.”