Third Sunday in Ordinary time – Year A

Hearing that John had been arrested Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.

From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.

Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.

Mt 4:12-23

Throughout his Gospel, Matthew repeats the verse ‘all of this occurred so that Scripture might be fulfilled.’ This passage, which explores the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, is no different. In leaving his hometown of Nazareth and settling in Capernaum Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, who assured the descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali (two of the sons of Jacob i.e. the twelve tribes of Israel) “the people that walked in darkness has seen a great light … you have made their gladness greater … they rejoice in your presence” (Is: 8:23). For Matthew, Jesus’ ministry will be a great light that conquers the darkness of the people who live in a “land of deep shadow”. It will be a light that brings both gladness and joy. It is important to note that Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee, which retained a significant population of non-Jews. By virtue of his Galilean ministry, Jesus foreshadows his own sending out of the disciples, so that they might go out and preach to all nations, Jew and Gentile alike (28:19-20).

“Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” is the simple invitation that Jesus extends to his first disciples. Their occupation as fishermen foreshadows their future mission, when Christ will send them to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Peter, the first called, will have a leading role among the Twelve (Acts 1:15; 2:14; 15:7). The disciples immediately respond to Christ’s invitation, leaving their boats and nets to follow him, thus highlighting that Christian discipleship demands a loose attachment to worldly things and a willingness to part with them. This is especially evidenced in Luke’s Gospel (5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22). Those who do give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom will receive in return “a hundred fold” (18:29-30).

The response of Peter and Andrew, James and John is in stark contrast to the rich young man who, because of his attachment to worldly things, was unable to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him.  True Christian discipleship is challenging. We are often afraid, and the sacrifices are great, but so too are the rewards. We should not be afraid to be called by Christ, or for that matter, caught by Christ. Christ is the ultimate fisher of men. St Cyril of Jerusalem assured early Christians “you now find yourself in the fishing nets of Christ. Let yourselves be caught. Christ wants to capture you not to harm you but to give you life out of death.”

How do you respond to Christ’s invitation “Come, follow me”?

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission and Identity