Text: Matthew 4:12-25
Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Was Jesus waiting for a signal? Our Gospel reading says that Jesus didn’t begin to announce the Kingdom until he heard that John had been arrested. John was sequestered in Herod’s dungeon. The charge: He criticised the morality of the king. Herod was shaking up with his sister-in-law, and John called him out on it. Suddenly, the voice calling in the wilderness is silenced. Something about that sinister moment told Jesus that the time had come. Jesus could wait no longer. The darkness had reached its height; it was time for the great light to shine.
The fish and the Fishers
Jesus picks up where John had left off. Preaching repentance and the kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He called people to repentance. Repent means ‘change direction’; ‘turn round and go the other way;’ or ‘stop what you’re doing and do the opposite instead’. Jesus was urging them to turn their lives away from sin toward righteousness.
The very first thing Jesus did, according to Matthew, was to call followers. We see here the beginning of a community, the Church. Jesus calls four fishermen to be disciples with the simple words “follow me.” Peter, Andrew, James, John. They were partners in a fishing business with Zebedee. With a word Jesus calls them away from the nets and their boat. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They left jobs, they left family—both vital symbols of who they were—and became part of that something new, without knowing where it would lead.
Here is the beginning of apostolic ministry. These fishermen are not simply the first disciples, they are also the first apostles, the first pastors. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “I will make you fishers of men.” They used to catch fish in their nets. Now they would be sent to catch men for the kingdom in the net of Jesus’ death and resurrection, making disciples by baptising and teaching in His name, with His authority, in His stead and by His command. That also explains the change in job. Not everyone is called to leave their line of work to become an apostle of Jesus. Most didn’t. But these four did. They left their nets and their boat and Father Zebedee and began a new calling, a new vocation. This also explains leaving Father Zebedee behind with the boats. It’s not that he wasn’t saved. It’s only that Jesus didn’t select him to be one of his apostles.
The disciples who Jesus called in our reading were plain fishermen. These men did not have any special outward qualifications. It’s likely they were not “college educated.” They were not trained in public speaking or philosophy. They were common, everyday, blue-collar labourers. And yet Jesus gathered them, taught them, and sent them into the world. They used to catch fish. Now they would fish for men. These men had, however, met the first and foremost qualification for service to the Lord: they knew him as their personal Savior—the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
And just like Jesus called them to be fishers of men, he calls pastors to proclaim his Gospel and administer his sacraments. However, he also calls all you to share the Gospel with others. But, we often feel intimidated. You may think you are of no use to God and His kingdom. You may think you don’t have the skills, the aptitude, the personality. We often say, “I don’t feel confident that I know what to say,” or “I don’t know how to do it,” or “We need a class to teach us how to do personal evangelism.” Sure, a class couldn’t hurt. But you do not have to be ordained to as a pastor to share Jesus. Just like Jesus trained and equipped the men whom he called, he still equips his followers of today. He strengthens us through his Word and sacrament. He shapes us through trials and adversity. You are already equipped for mission work. You don’t have to have some advanced stage of holiness to engage in it. You have Jesus Christ. You have his forgiveness, life, and salvation. And you can share that with others. If you don’t want to share the Gospel with others, the question is: do you even care that people are dying in their sins? Are you willing to let people go to hell and not do anything about it? How much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about Jesus? To have such grace given to us, and then to not care at all about what happens to others is a betrayal of what the Church is in her very essence. The Church is made up of people who have seen the light shining in the darkness and who follow the path it illuminates, and pointing others to that light. It’s about beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.
But, when you hear of Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John and you hear Jesus say “I will make you fishers of men,” don’t think of yourselves as fishers of men. Think of yourselves as fish. Jesus isn’t necessarily calling you to change vocations in order to serve Him. Father Zebedee was just fine tending to the fishing business, but Jesus needed his sons for other purposes. There were plenty of tax collectors in Israel, but Jesus needed Matthew to collect disciples instead of taxes.
You are fish caught in Jesus’ apostolic net. You are baptized with a Baptism Jesus put into the hands of His apostles and pastors with the promise that He would be with them in this baptizing. He put HIs teaching into the hands of His apostles and commanded them to teach everything they had learned from Him. You are fish. Fish caught in a net are as good as dead. In order to live, they must escape the net. But not this net. This net that has captured you will drag you to the shore and raise you to life on the Last Day. This is a rescue net, before the sea become a lake of fire and destroys you.
Bringing others to Jesus
Now, you may be thinking, “But isn’t that what we have a pastor and missionaries for?” In one sense it’s true that pastors are called specifically to preach Jesus in his stead and by his command. Forgive my bluntness, but any thought that sharing Jesus with others is only a job for someone else is, frankly, cowardly garbage. Christians have thought this for a long time. “I am not called to be a pastor or missionary, so I don’t have to tell others about Jesus. That’s their job.” Many like Cain ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But Cain is not someone we should be imitating. We are our brothers’ keepers. Just because you’re not a pastor or missionary doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to tell others about Jesus. It is certainly true that not all of us are called to be apostles, but we are all called to be apostolic — or we are not in the Apostolic Church.
But if you are not to see yourselves as fishers of men, as pastors, but fish, how can I say you need to share the gospel? Notice that people “brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” In our day we call that “personal evangelism.” We talk a lot about it, and about how we should be doing more of it. But what it boils down to in the end is bringing people you know to Jesus to have Him heal, bless, and forgive them. It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Evangelism isn’t about to knocking on doors nor is it about throwing money at an organisation or missionary to do the work for you. It is not a message that is forced on other people. It doesn’t have to be door-to-door, on the street corners. You may not be a pastor or missionary, but you can bring people to Jesus. You can find every way that they can be loved, that they can be told the message of Who Jesus is and what He came here to accomplish. When you invite your friends, family, and neighbours to church or bible study, you’re bringing them to Jesus. The people didn’t heal those in need. They brought them to where Jesus was so that he could heal them. You don’t have to do anything but bring people to where Jesus is. Invitations are easy; the worst people can say is no…and they just might say yes! Whatever the occasion is and whomever you are talking to, the personal contact and relationships we have in our everyday lives are where the best evangelism takes place. Your vocation is your mission field. Pass on the faith to your children and grandchildren. Greet a visitor on Sunday morning or any other time you see a new face around. Grab a Project Connect booklet and at church and pass them along to your neighbours or friends. Bring people to Jesus. We are sent by God to interact with others while we serve God in our various vocations and callings in life. While we go about our daily routines, we can be actively looking for ways to bring people to Jesus, not just wait for them to come asking.
As a disciple of Jesus, you are privileged to know the very mysteries of the kingdom. You know the King. You have been given to live under Him in His kingdom. You have received His Baptism, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness, life, salvation. To be a disciple is to hear Jesus say to you, “Follow me.” Once, a disciple brought you to Jesus. When you were brought to Jesus, he forgave you. He called you out of darkness into light. He poured his grace upon you. He did so, because a disciple brought you to Jesus. “Follow me,” he says to each one of us. And so we follow, as he guides us out into the highways and byways of life.
You are fish whom the net of the Gospel has snatched. This is a net cast far and wide to save you from your sin, your death and anything that would harm or destroy you. God has come in the flesh to save you. He saves you through his called pastors who preach his word. He saves you through fellow Christians who bring you to Jesus. And you are invited to do your part.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen