“The Mysterious Voice”
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Matthew 4: 12-22
The story of Jesus recruiting his first disciples sounds strange to our contemporary ears. Jesus does not publish a job description or conduct interviews or check references. As Matthew tells it, one day, out of the blue, he simply walks up to two sets of brothers who are fishermen, one after another, and says to them “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
The disciples’ response is even stranger. Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John immediately leave behind their nets, their boat, and their father to follow Jesus. The text emphasizes the Greek word eujqevwß [pronounced yoo-theh'-oce] which means immediately, instantly, that very second. Simon and Andrew immediately leave their nets and follow Jesus. James and John immediately leave their boat and their father and follow him.
They do not think about it. They do not ask Jesus any questions. They do not Google him. They immediately leave everything – their livelihood, their lives, their dad – to follow Jesus…no deliberation, no questions asked, no conditions.
We don’t really know if this is the way it happened. This is one of those instances when the Bible disagrees with itself. The Gospel of John tells a very different story from the Gospel of Matthew about how Simon Peter and Andrew became disciples.
Matthew, remember, says Jesus walked up to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew while they were fishing and invited them to follow him. But this is what John 1: 35-42 says:
The next day again John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).
Two very different stories in two different books of the Bible about how Simon Peter and Andrew became disciples!
So the question is: why does Matthew tell the story the way he does? What does he want his readers to realize as a consequence of the way he tells the story? What is Matthew’s message?
Here is why I think Matthew tells the story the way he does. Let me try to illustrate it this way –
Some months ago a rumor spread through the gym I go to on Capitol Hill. The rumor was that a large man had driven up to the gym in a big expensive car and had come inside to work out. He was wearing, so the rumor went, a Washington Nationals jacket. The punch line of the rumor was that maybe it was Manny Acta. Maybe Manny Acta had joined our gym.
those of you who, unlike others of us, do not worship at the
I will venture to guess that I was not the only man of my generation in the gym that morning who, when he heard that rumor, had the same fantasy I had while I was enduring the tedium of the rowing machine.
The fantasy is that you are at the gym working out next to Manny Acta. He notices that your arm looks pretty strong. He asks you if you’ve ever pitched baseball. He invites you to throw a baseball with him and, then, impressed with your arm, offers you a tryout at spring training and you end up a starting pitcher for the Nats and go on to pitch the winning game of the World Series – at 60 years of age.
This is, of course, totally ludicrous – ludicrous in too many ways to name – but, hey, what are fantasies for? And I’d bet you money I wasn’t the only man of my generation at Results Gym, sweating away on an elliptical trainer or the weight machines, who had a similar fantasy that morning.
If Manny Acta invited us – middle-aged men raised in the Church of Baseball – to pitch for the Nats, who of us would not leave behind our vocations, our livelihood, our dads, to follow him? Eujqevwß, immediately, instantly, this very second, in a flash.
The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Christian who was part of the second generation of Christianity…someone who himself had never known Jesus personally during his lifetime but who had become a Christian based on the witness of others and who loved and worshipped and adored and followed the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.
Matthew is saying, wouldn’t it be inconceivable to think that if someone had actually met Jesus in person in the flesh and Jesus had spoken to them and invited them to become his disciple and they had heard his voice…isn’t it inconceivable that they would do anything but immediately leave everything behind and follow him? eujqevwß immediately, instantly, this very second. Who wouldn’t?
The writer of Matthew is saying that if Jesus in the flesh spoke to any one of us directly – if we knew who he was and could hear the words come out of his mouth – if we could hear his very voice calling us – wouldn’t we surely drop everything and anything else in our lives to follow him? It would not be a sacrifice but an act of joy.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that in the Gospels not a word of praise is given to the disciples for their decision to follow Jesus.[i] The presumption is that if we were so honored by Christ as to be personally invited to follow him and to be his disciple, who would say no? No credit given for what anyone in their right mind would do. Who in their right mind would say no to Christ?
There is a message here for Matthew’s readers. There is an implied judgment in the way Matthew chooses to tell the story.
the Gospel of Matthew was written in the City of
Others argued that Jesus was all humanity’s messiah. Jew and Gentile were
equally included in the community of Christ.
It was a long and a hard battle. The Gospel of Matthew was written during the height of this conflict. Matthew was a proponent of the inclusion and affirmation of Gentiles within the Christian church.[ii]
This was more than a theoretical discussion. There was a great human cost to the struggle. Jews considered Gentiles to be unclean. If you were Jewish, you could do business with Gentiles but you could not fellowship intimately with them. If you did so, you yourself became unclean.
If you were a Jew and part of a Christian community, as long as everybody else who was part of that community was Jewish, even if some were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism, you were still kosher. But if unconverted Gentiles became part of your fellowship and you ate and drank Holy Communion with them and held their hands as you prayed, you became unclean…it became as if you yourself were a Gentile...and other Jews would no longer associate with you.
In a time when most businesses were family businesses, to become part of a congregation in which unconverted Gentiles were allowed to be members, this might well mean you losing your livelihood, your nets and your boat, and your dad, your family. This was the human cost of the decision to include Gentiles in the life of the church.[iii]
Matthew is saying that if you really know who it was who is saying to you “Follow me,” you will not give it a second thought. No matter what the cost, you will follow eujqevwß. You’ll do it with alacrity and joy if you know who it is that is saying to you, “Follow me.”
Jesus still invites us to follow him. And there can still a human cost to it. To follow Jesus still means choosing fellowship with Gentiles.
One of our members told me he ran into somebody who used to attend Foundry whom he hadn’t seen around for a while. He asked the man why he hadn’t seen him at Foundry lately. The man said, “It’s that preacher. All he talks about is those illegal aliens.”
I said, the next time you see him tell him it’s not me, it’s Jana Meyer. And its not really Jana, but it is you…you who teach day laborers ESL and take them bottled water on Thursday mornings, and support their union. I walked past the day laborers for three years until you began having fellowship with them. There can still be a human cost to following Jesus.
Some of our African-American members have friends and relatives who ask them why they go to church with all those white people. Some of our gay members have friends who make fun of them for going to church at all. I’ve had politicians tell me that there might be a political cost to being part of a church where everybody is accepted and affirmed.
Other Methodist pastors sometimes criticize us for being too politically correct. Well, friends, we passed through and beyond political correctness a long time ago.
All this is about following Jesus. Jesus has said to us “Follow me,” and when Jesus invites us to become his disciples, what else can we do but to leave our nets and our boat and our dad and follow him?
Perhaps the voice of Christ is saying “Follow me” to you in some way this morning. Perhaps you have not made a commitment to church membership. We have a new members’ orientation coming up in two weeks. Stop by the welcome table and sign up if Christ is saying to you “Follow me.”
Perhaps the voice of Christ is calling you to greater service. We need 20 Sunday school teachers and substitutes. Talk to Pastor T. We need VIM short term missionaries. Talk to Jana. We need people to perform ministries of caring. Talk to Pastor Dee.
Perhaps the voice of Christ is calling you into full-time Christian service or ordained ministry. Make an appointment with me or Dee.
Do it eujqevwß.
I don’t know how it will all
work out for you. There may be a cost. A gay man called me a while ago and
told me he was experiencing a call to ministry and asked me what he should do.
I told him that if God was calling him, he ought to answer the call. “But the
Methodist church won’t ordain me,” he said. “What should I do about that?” I
don’t know, I said. It’s a tragedy. I don’t know, I said, but it isn’t me calling
you. It’s God calling you and if God is calling you, you ought to answer. God
called some women to ministry when the
All I know this morning is that if Manny Acta said “follow me,” I’d go in a flash. And One greater than Manny Acta has come and he is saying “Follow me” to us this morning.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Macmillan, revised edition, 1959), 62.
[ii] For a discussion of this debate in the church at
[iii] While there is not enough time to develop it in this sermon, the image of fishing is one used by Matthew 13: 47-50 as a metaphor for the inclusion of the Gentile nations. Matthew may be implying that Jesus’ call to fish for people was an explicit reference to ministry to and with Gentiles. See http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/parables/Stu_Not%5CWa-Mt13_47-50.htm.