Tag Archives: Calling of Disciples

Matthew 8: 18-22 The Nature of Discipleship part 1

Matthew 8: 18-22

Parallel Luke 9: 57-62

18 Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew’s gospel uses rhythm to help reveal meaning. Previously in chapter eight we’ve seen Matthew use a pattern of three healing stories which climax in the scriptural citation that Jesus is the one who ‘took our infirmities and bore our diseases’ to disclose who Jesus is. Each healing narrative build upon the preceding narrative to help illuminate who Jesus is through what Jesus does. Structures of three are common in ancient literature and here Matthew will use two interconnected patterns of three to continue to help the hearer answer the interconnected questions of who is Jesus? and what does it mean to follow him?

Sometimes it is helpful to see the structure graphically

Miracle story 1 (Matthew 8: 1-4) Healing the person with a skin disease
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 8: 5-14) Healing the centurion’s son
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 8:14-17) Healing Peter’s mother-in-law…healing all
Explanation ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 8: 18-22)A scribe and a disciple
Miracle story 1 (Matthew 8: 23-27) Jesus stills a storm
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 8: 28-9:1) Jesus casts out demons from two men
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 9:2-9:8) Jesus heals a paralytic
Explanation ‘God…had given such authority to human beings’
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 9:9-17) Call of Matthew and question on
Miracle story 1 (Matthew 9: 18-26) Woman and girl healed/raised
Miracle story 2 (Matthew 9: 27-31) Jesus heals two blind men
Miracle story 3 (Matthew 9: 32-34) Healing mute demoniac
Explanation ‘Never has anything been seen like this’ vs. ‘By demons he casts out
Nature of Discipleship: (Matthew 9:35-11:1) Jesus prepares disciples for

Matthew’s gospel is focused on helping form a community that will continue to follow Jesus amid the challenges of the world around them. From the placement of the sermon on the mount early in the ministry of Jesus to the regular interweaving of teaching and narrative we see Matthew exploring who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Being a disciple of Jesus will involve embodying a different set of values and practices that will be visible to the surrounding world. As Matthew invites us back to considering the nature of discipleship, we are given several clues within this dialogue with the scribe and the disciple to suggest what the follower is needs to hear about the nature of discipleship even at this early stage in the gospel.

Titles matter in Matthew and the help the reader to gain insight about how each person approaches Jesus. While there are multiple titles used in Matthew’s gospel to help illuminate who Jesus is, Matthew deploys these titles carefully in the mouths of different petitioners. The scribe who comes to Jesus uses the title ‘teacher’ and although Jesus can use this term when referring to himself (Matthew 10: 24,25; 23:8 and 26:18) when it is spoken by someone else it is normally is used when people are challenging Jesus’ identity (Matthew 9:11; 12: 38; 17: 24; 19:16; 22:16; 22:24; 22:36). This scribe who approaches Jesus seems to have positive intentions in the narrative but the initial title and the way he is titled (as a scribe) hints that this scribe probably does not follow Jesus ‘wherever he goes.’ Jesus’ response to the scribe is a challenge, but as we saw in the healing of the centurion’s son when Jesus’ challenges someone there is the opportunity to respond with trust. The other hint we are given is that the scribe is the initiator of the offer of following Jesus rather than Jesus (as in the disciple’s case).

The second in dialogue with Jesus is labeled as a disciple and they come to Jesus asking for permission to do what is expected in a family relationship. We don’t know the condition of the father, whether he has already died, is very sick or whether the disciple is stating, “Once my father dies, then I can follow you” but we do know that Jesus provides resistance to this qualification. Jesus initiates the call using the same words he used with Peter and Andrew (and presumably James and John) in Matthew 4: 19 and will later use for Matthew in Matthew 9:9. We are given two verbal clues that this disciple does follow Jesus, even after the challenge to ‘let the dead bury their own dead.’

The nature of discipleship in Matthew seems to be called rather than chosen. Others outside the disciples may demonstrate great faith, often more than the disciples themselves demonstrate. Outsiders may see what the disciples struggle to see and yet, those who are disciples in Matthew are invited into this group by Jesus. It is critical for Matthew to link Jesus’ identity to the witness of scriptures, but here an interpreter of those scriptures, a scribe, is challenged and presumably does not get into the boat with his disciples, while his disciples, even one who leaves behind a father who will need to be buried, get into the boat to go away from home. Even though Jesus does seem to operate out of Capernaum as a base of operations for portions of Matthew, he will also continue to travel and send his disciples to travel to towns and villages where they are unknown. The disciples will be separated from the support of home and family as they become a part of the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus they will discover one who is more important than the other commitments and callings of life. In entering the journey with Jesus, they will leave behind other things, but those who get into the boat with him have been called to be there and wonder ‘What sort of man he is.’

Matthew 4: 18-25 Snagging the Fishers for Humanity and Spreading the Kingdom

Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311)

Matthew 4: 18-25

Parallel Mark 1: 16-20, Luke 5: 1-11; John 1: 35-51

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

The kingdom of heaven may have established a foothold in Capernaum, but now that kingdom and its representative will begin its infiltration of the surrounding region of Galilee. Jesus will go out and actively begin selecting those who will participate in fishing for people and begin to drive out the forces of sickness and demonic possession that have kept the people in the darkness. Matthew condenses the call of his first disciples and the initial acts of healing and casting out of demons into a short space to bring us to Jesus’ teaching on the mountain but this scene is necessary to set the scene for this extended teaching and the crowds that are coming to hear him.

Capernaum is on the north bank of the Sea of Galilee, so Jesus would not have to move far to find fishermen along the bank of the sea. Even though Jesus may not need to move far in seeking these first followers the action of a teacher going and seeking students is unusual in a culture where a Rabbi would set up a school and disciples would seek out the teacher. Yet, the initiative will rest with Jesus in the call, and when others seek Jesus out as potential disciples (Matthew 8: 19-22) they will learn this is a difficult, if not impossible task. We do not know how long Jesus has been in Capernaum proclaiming the kingdom of heaven or if the four fishermen knew him prior to being called but these fishermen will serve as a model of responding faithfully to Jesus’ call. There is resonance with the call that Jesus extends to the disciples and the call of Abram in Genesis 12 where God calls Abram to leave their kindred, their fathers house and go to a land that God will show them. Yet, initially, the disciples will not leave their country, but they will leave behind their vocations and family.

The fishermen are often portrayed as ‘poor fishermen’ but there is no indication that they were poor or that what they were leaving behind was not a stable and sustainable existence. Probably the closest analogy to our time would be small business owners who have enough invested in their business to have a boat and nets, food to eat and homes to live in, money to pay the taxes on the fish they catch and the ability to transport (and process) caught fish for sale. This was a family enterprise that relied upon family members upholding their part of the work of fishing, mending nets, maintaining boats, and selling their catch and the removal of sons from their positions in the family business would have presented a challenge for the remaining family members. Yet, Peter and Andrew and James and John all go when called, leaving their families, their business and their way of life behind. The boats may still be there, and they may still at times fish, but their primary fishing will be kingdom related rather than profit related.

Against the background of the use of fishing metaphors in the scriptures we see the imagery of fishing being used for the regathering of Israel.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.
I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. Jeremiah 16: 14-16 

How one reads this portion of Jeremiah can be tricky. It can be read, as Richard B. Hays reads it by pulling on the verses that immediately follow what I have quoted above, “the “fishermen” whom God is summoning are agents of judgment, hauling people in so that God can “repay their iniquity and their sin.”” (Hays, 2016, p. 24). Jeremiah 16 is about a new beginning, but only after judgment and exile. I read this portion of Jeremiah 16 as an ingathering of the people after the prophesied judgment. Fishing imagery can be used in terms of judgment (see for example Amos 4: 1-2) but I do believe the theme of gathering in the dispersed people is behind the scriptural resonance here.

The disciples leave their boat and follow, they respond faithfully and these ‘little faith ones’ will become models of what being a disciple of Jesus is for future generations of followers. Jesus has shown the initiative, issued the call and these four men have responded. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say in Discipleship, “Discipleship is not a human offer. The call alone justifies it.” (DBWE 4: 63) Jesus, for Matthew and the disciple, is no ordinary rabbi or teacher. Although these four disciples probably do not recognize the significance of the one calling them, Matthew has been trying to get us to hear through his various uses of scriptural quotation and resonance the that Jesus is more than just a herald of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples in Jesus’ time and of all times will have to puzzle about the identity and significance of Jesus during their following but like the ‘little faith ones’ called from their fishing boats we are also called to look for the inbreaking signs of the kingdom of heaven as we travel through the world.

Jesus moves, teaches and acts as Matthew prepares us for the first concentrated block of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Mark’s gospel will focus on what Jesus does, but Matthew wants those who are disciples to gather with the crowd to hear Jesus teach. Yet, Jesus and the kingdom of heaven are also known by what Jesus does. His fame spreads by his teaching and his healing and exorcisms. The inbreaking kingdom of heaven casts out sickness, disease, pain, the demon possessed, and those broken in mind or body. Jesus’ power overcomes all these barriers to the people realizing the wholeness and healing of the kingdom of heaven. His fame is said to spread throughout Syria, one of the reasons some interpreters believe Matthew’s gospel was written in Syria, but it may also be the shining of the light in Galilee to the nations, the Gentiles. It may also be a part of the theme of the ingathering of Israel which is already occurring from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan and this may be the early catch of God’s fishermen beginning to gather the dispersed people out of the land of the north.

Authority and power rest with Jesus: authority to heal and make whole and the authority to teach in the synagogues and soon on the mountain. The crowds are beginning to gather, the initial fishers of humanity have been called and the kingdom of heaven has been announced and embodied. Matthew has set the groundwork for us to hear the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to teach us what being it will mean to be a covenant to the people and a light to the nations. Perhaps we, like the fishermen have been snared. Perhaps we, like the sick, diseased, broken or possessed have been healed and seen the kingdom of heaven’s work in our lives. We are now prepared to go up with the disciples to listen as Jesus talks both to us and the rest of the crowd.

Images for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Calling of the Disciples from Matthew’s Gospel

The Calling of the Apostles, Mosaics from San Marco, Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and Murano

The Calling of the Apostles, Mosaics from San Marco, Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and Murano

Apostle's Call, Relief from Manastery of San Pedro da Roda

Apostle’s Call, Relief from Manastery of San Pedro da Roda


Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-1311)

Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-1311)


James Tissot, The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew (1886-1894)

James Tissot, The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew (1886-1894)