The Third Sunday After the Epiphany: THE GATHERING OF DISCIPLES, Pt 2


A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin

January 22, 2017

Lections Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23


Today’s Gospel switches over from John’s account, which we heard last week, to Matthew’s earlier narrative of Jesus’ public ministry.  This shift gives us another perspective on “the gathering of disciples,” and fills out our understanding of Christian vocation.

Matthew identifies two of the first disciples, Andrew and Simon Peter, as fishermen, and records a slightly different version of the call of Jesus we heard last week.  In John, Jesus says, “Come, and you will see.” In Matthew, he says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for men.” Matthew puts more emphasis on the active intention informing the call than does John, who isolates the splendor of a more contemplative devotion.  Matthew is focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus inaugurates, and the paths which will lead to the founding of a Messianic Community that takes its place amongst the kingdoms of the world. The arrival of the light  of this Kingdom – the Great Light of Galilee – brings hope and gladness to all those who live “in the land of the shadow of death.”  

Matthew names two disciples that John didn’t mention last week: James son of Zebedee and his brother John, both fishermen.  All twelve disciples of Jesus will be 1) “the primary audience for his teaching,” 2) “witnesses of his works of power,” and 3) “active helpers in the task of “fishing for people,” i.e. gathering the community. As one commentator point out, “the first time Jesus will be left alone after this point will be when eventually the disciples desert him in the garden of Gethsemane.”[i]

The twelve disciples are listed later in Matthew:  Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John; Philip and Bartholomew (who John calls Nathaniel); Thomas and Matthew; James son of Aphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.

The life of a disciple was difficult. James and John left their father Zebedee alone in their boat when they answered Jesus’ call, “leaving both work and family.”  Presumably, their worldly possessions were meager, but had they wealth, that too would be left behind.  As Peter later exclaimed, “We have left everything to follow you” (Mt 19:27).  Once again we marvel at the humble beginnings and remarkable growth over the next two millenniums of the universal church.

We said last week that Jesus speaks to us today much as he spoke to his first disciples.  “What do you want,” he asks, and we are called upon to give an answer.  Today’s gospel pressures us to answer two slightly different questions:  have you left everything to follow Jesus? Has he sent you out to fish for people?

Matthew’s reading concludes with a brief description of Jesus “fishing for men”:  1) he taught in worship assemblies; 2) he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom to gathered crowds; and 3) he healed every disease and sickness among the people. This is the path he made for his disciples.  It leads to the church, and it has led many millions to the church; but does it stop here?  Or does it also lead us back into the world, as a fisherman returns day after day to the sea? The answer is, for some, indeed, the path of Jesus leads us to the church, where we stay in the splendor of devotion.  For others, it leads back into the world.

Christian vocation is not the same for everyone; there are different kinds of vocation.  What the church teaches us is that everyone who has been baptized does in fact have a vocation. Some people are called to specific, lifelong vocations, while others are called to the more foundational vocations of loving God and “living the Christian life in the here and now.” The vocation to live as Jesus did, adopting poverty, celibacy and obedience, is in stark contrast to the lifelong vocation of marriage, but both are Christian callings.[ii]

Church discipline asks us to take deliberate steps to discover the kind of person God created us to be, because the discernment of our vocation will affect us for a lifetime.  As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “if we find our place, we will be happy.  If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary…to be what God wants us to be.”[iii]

Let us pray once more for the wisdom to continue to respond to God’s call and to discern his will for us.

And all the people said, Amen.


[i] R.T. France, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew

[ii] Stephen Wang, “How To Discover Your Vocation,” Ignatius-CTS.

[iii] Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island, Chapter 8, “Vocation.”

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