3rd Sunday after Epiphany

(January 26 • 2014)

‘Called to Follow’




Isaiah 9:1-4

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23



Nowadays, you need a special training to enter into professional or specialised ministry. The process to become a minister in the Uniting Church, for example, is a long process that takes years to complete. It starts with what people call as the Period of Discernment. During the period, you are appointed a mentor who will be with you, for a period of time, to consider about your call into ministry. Most people spend months, discerning their call in this period; others spend years. The period finishes when you and your mentor come to the conclusion that you indeed have a genuine call to enter professional ministry.

The next part of the process is to face a group of people, called the Selection Panel, who will decide whether or not you are ‘suitable’ for ministry. In most cases, around two people interview each candidate. In my case, because the other candidates somehow pulled out at the last minute, I was interviewed by seven people who, perhaps because their lack of sleep the night before or there was not enough caffeine in their blood system that morning, let met pass the interview.

After you are deemed ‘suitable’ for ministry by this panel, you enter into the core program of the candidacy, which includes more study, internship with different supervisors in various types of congregations, chaplaincy training, rural ministry, regular interviews, and weekly gathering with the other candidates.

Once you graduate from your core program, your next step is to have various interviews with different bodies and committees in the church and, if you’re lucky enough like me, you’ll find a nice congregation, like the one here in Rockingham, who calls you and only then you will meet all the requirements for ordination.

For most people, the whole process takes about three to four years to finish. For me, since I did similar training back in Indonesia, the journey took around 10 years, which probably the reason why I start to have these stands of white hair in my head. 

Fortunately, we do not need such special training to follow Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t ask for much criteria from those who would like to follow him, otherwise, people like Simon, Andrew, James, and John would never be ‘qualified’ to be his followers.

In Jesus’ time, Galilee was the rural part of Israel. The people who lived there were less ‘refined’ and ‘sophisticated’ than those who lived in big cities like Jerusalem or Rome.[1] Fishermen, at that time, was nothing like fishermen today. Fishermen, in Jesus’ time, were poor people with little assets, which they even had to buy using the money they often borrowed from their local tax collectors.[2]

But their limitations were no obstacle for Jesus to call them. What he needed was an acceptance to his invitation. He didn’t need someone with sophisticated mind or life. On the contrary, from what we hear today in the Gospel, he preferred those with simple mind and life. Because those who are simple are often those who are the most open to his invitation.

Therefore, we don’t need to be ‘saints’ or popular or rich to be called by him. By the same token, we don’t need to be social outcasts or poor to be called by him either. Jesus called people from all walks of life. Everyone is called to be ‘fisher’ of men (and women); to be proclaimer of the good news; to heal every illness and sickness (physical, emotional, social, spiritual); in the words of our reading from Isaiah, to proclaim the Great Light to those who walk in darkness.

Today’s reading in the Gospel of Matthew seems to show to us that Jesus’ disciples were made of only one group of people: fishermen. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, we are only told of the first four people who joined Jesus in his ministry. Later on in all the Gospels, we will see how people from all walks of life came to follow Jesus: rich and poor, literate and illiterate, man and women, Jews and Gentiles, adult and children, soldier, commander, leader of Synagogue, tax collectors, sex workers, even some of the Pharisees and the Scribes. Diverse people followed Jesus on his way. Yet, they were all united in one thing: they all responded to the same invitation that Jesus gave to the four in our passage today: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”[3]

Jesus was forming a new community that crossed the boundaries of occupation and family. Simon, Andrew, James, and John left their job behind to follow Jesus. Matthew told us that James and John did something even more: they didn’t only leave their boat, but also their father behind. It’s easy to think that they literally left their job and family for good. Again, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As we shall see later in the Gospels, Jesus disciples continued their occupation as fishermen and continued to keep in touch with their family.

But we are reminded in today’s story how the disciples valued their relationship with Jesus more than they valued their other relationships. How their familial and occupational ‘allegiance’ had been superseded by their allegiance to Jesus. In ancient time, that would mean crossing the boundaries of ranks and status in the society. The elites, both in Jesus’ time and today, only welcome those with good pedigree. Not with Jesus. His community was comprised of those with good pedigree and those with ‘not-so-good’ pedigree. There were no more requirements to join his community apart from one’s willingness to ally oneself with Jesus.

So there is unity in the diversity that we experience in the community that Jesus began to build on the shore of lake Galilee around 2000 years ago. The grace of God, which manifests itself in Jesus, calls everyone from diverse backgrounds and situations. Yet these diverse people are all united in one thing: all have walked in the darkness and, now, all have seen the great light; all is now united under the lordship of Christ.

It’s not a surprise that such division in the Christian community in the city of Corinth must have given the great Apostle Paul a severe headache. How come a community that was supposed to have left behind things that had separated them was now divided on the basis of the leaders that they followed.

Paul made his position clear in his letter by, ironically, put Jesus in the same category as the three most influential leaders in the church at the time: Apollos, Cephas/Peter, and Paul himself. But that was not supposed to be. Jesus was supposed to be above those three, not one of them. “Has Christ been divided?” so he asked, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul?”[4] The answer to these rhetorical questions was obvious: “No!” No, it was Jesus who was crucified for all, not Paul and we are all baptised in the name of the Son (and the Father, and the Holy Spirit), not in the name of Paul.

In his Gospel, Matthew was clear to tell us that Simon, Andrew, James, and John, those who would later become prominent leaders in the church, were called by Jesus to follow him. Paul too, like the other leaders in the Church, was called by Jesus to be his apostle. All are called by Jesus, first of all, to follow him and him only, not to follow any leader in the church, including the minister, however young or attractive that minister is, how many years he/she has done in training/ministry. There is only one person that we follow: Jesus the Christ.

This also means that we have to look beyond our factional and denominational boundary; to see Christ in every denomination, in every style of worship, in every ‘brand’ of Christianity. It is Christ that we follow, not our denomination. It is Christ that we follow, not the Uniting Church. We are baptised in the name of the Son, (and the  Father, and the Holy Spirit) not in the name of the Uniting Church.

Friends, Jesus doesn’t ask for any qualifications for anyone to follow him. We don’t need to sit in an interview where someone asks us probing questions about our lifestyles or characters or backgrounds. We don’t need to finish years of training before we are deemed ‘qualified’ to follow Jesus. What he asks from each one of us is a willing heart to follow him and him only; to make him as the most important figure in our life, above all else; and to acknowledge that others too have received the same call from the one who is the head of the church and the universe.

Let us pray.

Oh God, our light in former times, be our light this day. Help us seek you and behold your beauty. As we go about our usual routines, call us to follow you. We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.[5]


[1] Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume V (Matthew to John), on http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc5.Matt.v.html (Retrieved on January 24, 2014)

[2] Petty, John, Lectionary blogging: Matthew 4: 12-23, on http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2011/01/lectionary-blogging-matthew-4-12-23.html (Posted on January 16, 2011 at 03:24 PM)

[3] Matthew 4:17 (New Revised Standard Version)

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (New Revised Standard Version)

[5] From Season of the Spirit – Epiphany Year A (January 26, 2014)