"Come after me . . ."
The Word for Sunday: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm
Work in the time of Jesus was pretty much passed down from generation to generation through one’s father. Once you had a specific occupation, that of your father, there was no expectation that you would advance to a higher level. The very desire that you would want to created suspicion. It was believed that only a limited amount of resources were available and once you had what you had, that was enough. If you advanced and became wealthy, it was assumed you did so through dishonest means by taking a portion meant for others.
So, it is likely the Father of Andrew and Peter was also a fisherman. The others of James and John were in their boat with their father who likewise shared in the same fishing trade. Peter and Andrew had their own boat so that would have been considered a measure of success. We could presume these four were known around the Sea of Galilee and so to the larger population they were not particular strangers. They had reached some level of comfort and were not particularly desperate men. They had probably settled into their fishing trade, became skilled at it, and that's the way it will be.
Then suddenly, a voice cries out to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It is Jesus gathering an action plan for the future and he invites these four to be among the first to help him implement a new vision and direction. They hear his voice and immediately drop what they are doing. We read the words “at once” and “immediately they left their boat.”
Why so quickly or is this some sort of literary exaggeration used by Matthew in writing his Gospel? I would suspect, based on other more scholarly authors, that their response was indeed immediate. While they were successful in their trade, this may not have been the first time they heard of Jesus. By this time, likely, his public ministry of preaching and healing was already known. When a man of Jesus’ reputation and charisma called to them, they may have wondered what he wanted of them at that immediate moment so they did not hesitate. Indeed what Jesus ultimately wanted of them was their loyalty.
Yet, Jesus’ own words: “Come after ME” are unique. He wasn’t inviting them to a political party (such things did not exist) or a particular group of rebels or into a specific class of society. Nor was he offering them a new position or job. His request to follow HIM was a call to conversion and ultimate missionary discipleship. Surely, a new way of life that might offer them the opportunity to use their fishing skills for a far more significant purpose: "I will make you fishers of men."
This is where we Catholic/Christians can do the same. Our Catholic faith invites us to bring the world a new light, as Isaiah refers this Sunday in the first reading. We must look beyond politics for example, a tough message maybe for some especially in this wild political year. If we as Christians cannot look beyond politics then there is something seriously wrong in our understanding of who we are and who Jesus calls us to be.
That look beyond politics is to bring the world the Gospel values of reconciliation, healing, compassion, inclusiveness, the self-sacrifice, the selfless love of God who calls us to holiness after the example of Christ. "Come after me” might have been another way of Jesus saying, “Be like me.”
So, as we approach this Sunday, it might be good for us to consider our own personal discipleship. What does it mean for me to follow Jesus? Can I look beyond the divisiveness of such things as political rhetoric and look to what the Gospel teaches about the dignity of the human person, the special option for the poor, the good news of God’s love and mercy for all?
More will come . . .