By Kateri Boucher, Homily at Day House Catholic Worker 1/26
Matthew 4: 18-22
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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
When taken at face value, this reading doesn’t seem to have much bearing on my life. I haven’t gone fishing in years. I’ve never been approached by a random man asking me to follow him and “catch other people.” And I’ve certainly never made a split-second decision to leave my daily life and family behind.
What struck me most from these verses is how seemingly quickly and seemingly easily these four fishermen said yes to following Jesus. Most translations say they left “immediately,” “straight away,” or “at once.” The Message translation says, “They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.”
As much as I admire the disciples for being able to make this decision and say yes to God calling them, I’m not sure these brief verses tell the whole story. If they were really humans like you and me, the question I’m compelled to ask is: What kind of conditions would need to have been in place in order for this particular moment to occur?
Although Matthew doesn’t mention it, reading the other Gospels suggests that Peter, Andrew, James, and John did actually already know Jesus before this call, or at the very least knew of him. According to the Gospel of John, Andrew was even a disciple of John the Baptist, so he was already familiar with this movement and knew that Jesus was the one John had been waiting for. It’s also likely that Jesus’s reputation as a traveling rabbi and healer would’ve preceded him in Capernaum. So this was no random man asking them to drop their lives, but someone they already considered a teacher or a leader, calling them to intensify their commitment to a movement they were already a part of.
Just this context alone helps me relate more to these first disciples. There are a few people I can think of, some who I’ve never met, who could walk through the door right now and ask me to follow them and I might genuinely consider it. I wonder if there’s anyone you could say that for too.
But I imagine that knowing Jesus, or recognizing his name and his work, would not have been enough alone to get them to say yes. I wonder about the internal preparation that would’ve led up to this moment. Even though The Message says that they didn’t ask any questions in that moment, I wonder about the kind of questions they were asking in the days leading up to it. The late-night conversations. The prayers. Maybe they had been yearning, deep down, to be asked to change their lives. To live a different way. So by the time this ask came, they didn’t have to even think. They could drop their nets — leaving their families and daily lives behind — to follow the movement that was calling them.
I think it is significant, too, that none of these disciples were alone. I think about how much easier it is to say no when we’re alone… to stay comfortable, to do the easy thing, to maintain the status quo. I wonder if there were other fishermen Jesus called to, who happened to be alone at the time. Jesus calls to them, “Come follow me,” and they look around like “Ah, I don’t know if it’s the right time for me… Maybe I should just stay here.” With no one there to say to them “Wait, do you see who this is? Isn’t this what you have been wanting to do?”
In this story, these two pairs of brothers knew each other intimately. They were in community with each other — they were accountable to each other, and each of their abilities to say yes to this moment was strengthened by the other one’s ability to do the same.
As I was sitting with this reading this week, I realized that it was almost exactly a year ago that Cat and I decided to move into Day House. And I was hit by the realization that I wouldn’t have moved here, I wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Cat. I remember exactly where I was when she called me, saying she had just come from a community meeting and she was seriously considering moving in. Neither of us said yes immediately, but I think we both knew, deep down, that we wanted to do it, and also that we couldn’t do it alone. After asking other friends, it became clear that we were the only two with serious interest. Our “yes”es were contingent on the other. And because of our trust, our established sense of relationship and community and accountability, we were able to respond to this call together.
So I’m thinking about what this story means for us… in this moment, in our movements… What is required of us now to prepare for the questions that will be asked of us in the future. A very uncertain future. We have no idea what it will hold. We have no idea where we will be called, or when we will be called to do it.
But we do know that it matters who we are listening to. Whose stories we are paying attention to, which leaders we are following, and which directions they are pointing us in. It was crucial that the disciples recognized Jesus, recognized his name and his significance, so when they heard his call they wouldn’t just say “Uh, sorry, who?” but take him seriously as a voice of God and voice of the people. Today, for us, it matters that we become familiar with movement spaces and grassroots leaders, with the teachers and community organizers and prophetic voices in our communities — so we can recognize and respond to their calls when it comes time for us to intensify our commitment.
The internal work also matters. It matters how we are preparing — what we are praying for — which late-night questions we are delving into or mourning over or journaling about or whispering with a beloved. The “yes’s” of the disciples may have seemed immediate in the moment, but I’m sure that they rested on many weeks, months and maybe even years of process and discernment. Allowing ourselves in the present moment to sink into the complexities, uncertainties, and longings is part of what allows us to eventually show up with clarity.
And the work of community matters. Accountability matters. Who we are building relationship with, spending time with, making decisions with. So when a moment comes, we can know each other and trust each other enough to step into it.
It’s clear that in this work of following God, of joining movement, of working for liberation, we will be called to actions that will take us away from people and parts of our lives that we love.
And people we love, in following their own calls, may need to be called away from us too. Sometimes we may be more like Zebedee, the father, left alone in the boat. What does it look like to support each other in these life-changing decisions, even if they lead to loss or heartbreak or fear for us? For someone we love to say “I think I need to do this” and for us to respond with support, even if we wish they didn’t have to.
I think about the Day House community, and how you all have supported each other through decades of nonviolent direct action, risk, and jail time. I think of Lydia’s letter to Isaac titled “Why is Grandpa in Jail?” and how Lydia and Erinn are already talking to their kids about the risks that Bill is willing to take as he follows his own calls. I wonder what conversations looked like among these disciples’ families. Were they able to support them, even if they might not have understood the call? Providing that kind of support requires preparation too. Allowing ourselves to grow in community together, while recognizing that we will all be called to different paths. Recognizing that a deeper call may one day require us to move in different directions.
What all of this is about, I think, is practicing and preparing for the moments — large and small — that call out to us and invite us closer to God, to each other, to liberation. Moments that invite us to say yes with our whole bodies and spirits. Moments that invite us to take a risk and leave the nets behind. So I’ll close with this passage from adrienne maree brown (who, by the way, I would definitely follow if she walked in the door right now and asked me to come with her… )
“We have the wind of human history at our backs, the sun of dreams, the welcome rain of struggle that connects us all. And all we have to do is say yes to the little patch of soil, the small corner of earth we inhabit. Yes, it’s time, yes we can, we know how, we have just been waiting to unleash our greater selves.
It must be said that the Age of Yes could pass us by. Right now I see all of these people, many of whom have very different beliefs than me, but with their hearts opened. How long is this window going to be open?
I have heard, from friends and mentors, that we will find ourselves incapable of sustaining the belief when reality sets in. Of course we are incapable – humans are cyclical creatures, ideological migrants, tidal in our belief because we are water just barely contained. However, to shift into the Age of Yes, we don’t need total, consistent belief. We just need enough people to believe, to stagger our moments of hope and belief and maintain a momentum, to give us a Tipping Point.”
Kateri Boucher lives in the Detroit Catholic Worker and works for Geez magazine.