Matthew sums up Jesus’ initial preaching as: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was precisely the same message that the evangelist John had proclaimed, but there was a significant difference; John’s message pointed to a savior who was to come, and Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that is present. We imagine that news of Jesus’ new teaching traveled rapidly and that it was powerfully compelling.
One day, as he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called two sets of brothers to “Come after me.” Jesus took the initiative; he arrived in the midst of the everyday activities of these humble fishermen, and he invited them into a radically different way of life, a life of a deep relationship with God and with humanity. He told them, “I will make you fishers of men.”
The point is powerfully made that these brothers, Peter, Andrew, James and John, at once left everything — family ties (their father) and means of support (their nets and boats) — and followed this itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. These disciples were not wooed by reason, eloquence or doctrine; they responded to a simple invitation into a living relationship. They left immediately; they did not count the cost of what it might mean to follow Jesus, and they really didn’t understand what Jesus was all about, as will later be made clear in the gospel.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were open to the possibilities that God might have for them, and they walked the road with Jesus. The disciples joined Jesus in his saving mission; they journeyed through forgotten places, teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and bringing healing. The disciples saw in Jesus the light that could dispel the darkness that obscured their lives.
The dynamic of invitation that Jesus started 2,000 years ago with a few simple fishermen reaches across the centuries and rings as true to us today as it did to them: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is an invitation that reaches out to each of us and offers us the fullness of life. It is ever new and unrelenting; there in the very darkest parts of our lives, Jesus comes and offers us a living relationship, a relationship of life and hope. This relationship is lived out, just as it was for those fishermen, in the everyday events of our lives.
When we are really attentive to the everyday events and people of our lives, we begin to see the subtle tracings of the savior in our midst: in the helping hand, in the kind word, in the gentle challenge that encourages us to be our best, the loving gesture, the sincere praise. Our recognition of Christ in others calls us to lives of deeper authenticity and goodness; it invites us more deeply into Christ’s mission, to be agents of reconciliation and of the kingdom of God.
n The Rev. Rex Hays is pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sermon Notes is a column by local religious leaders.