Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s account of the call of the first disciples by Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, he told them to come follow him and he would make them fishers of men. “At once they left their nets and followed him.” Then Jesus saw James and John and called them, “and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
“At once” they left their nets and followed Jesus. “Immediately” they left their boat and father and followed Jesus.
What made those men drop everything and follow Jesus? There is a poem written by the late Roland Flint, who taught at Georgetown when I was a student there in the late 1970s, that asks the same question. It is titled Follow.
Now here is this man mending his nets
after a long day, his fingers
nicked, here and there, by ropes and hooks,
pain like tomorrow in the small of his back,
his feet blue with his name, stinking of baits,
his mind on a pint and supper – nothing else –
a man who describes the settled shape
of his life every time his hands
make and snug a perfect knot.
I want to understand, if only for the story,
how a man like this,
a man like my father in harvest,
like Bunk MacVane in the stench of lobstering,
or a teamster, a steelworker,
how an ordinary working stiff,
even a high tempered one,
could just be called away.
It’s only in one account
he first brings in a netful –
in all the others, he just calls,
they return the look or stare and then
they “straightaway” leave their nets to follow.
That’s all there is. You have to figure
what was in that call, that look.
(And I wouldn’t try it on a tired working man
unless I was God’s son –
he’d kick your ass right off the pier.)
If they had been vagrants,
poets or minstrels, I’d understand that,
men who would follow a different dog.
But how does a man whose movement,
day after day after day,
absolutely trusts the shape it fills
put everything down and walk away?
I’d pass up all the fancy stunting
with Lazarus and the lepers
to see that one.
For me this poem captures a question that can only be satisfactorily answered by experiencing Christ. What made those men drop everything is not something that can be explained intellectually, in a manner satisfactory to someone who has not had a personal encounter. What moved them was Jesus. They responded to Jesus and what kept them with him was the relationship they had with him.
That says something about the importance of our own personal encounter with Jesus.