In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Frodo Baggins leads a simple and comfortable life. He is wealthy, has one of the most comfortable homes in the village, and he spends his time reading, fishing, and going to the pub with his friends; he has everything a young man could ever want; one day, the wizard Gandalf shows up and urges him to leave everything behind and set off on a quest, which turns out to be a quest to save the world. Joseph Campbell, a professor of literature, called this moment in a story the Call to Adventure and said that such moments signify “that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity to a zone unknown.” All of us face these types of turning points in our lives, a moment when we sense a desire to shift our focus away from ourselves and onto something with deeper meaning.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all issued a call to adventure and as fisherman, they were not likely leading comfortable lives as the fishing industry was heavily regulated to ensure that the profits flowed into the treasury of the elite, so it is unlikely that Jesus’ first four disciples had it as easy as Frodo Baggins; instead their lives probably hovered around the subsistence level, meaning they worked hard every day so that they might be able to eat. I find it hard to understand why these men would drop everything and follow a stranger just because he asked them to. Even if their lives were nothing to write home about, I am sure that they had the same fears we have all had about losing our livelihoods, about not being able to pay that one unexpected bill and if they did have those fears, how could they just drop what they were doing? How could they walk away from their families? Their friends? Their community? How could they answer a call to adventure that would take them away from their entire life?
As we unpack what Matthew is trying to tell us in this passage, I think that it is important that we remember he is trying to convey a message, not the historical record, so what message is he trying to convey? If viewed within the context of the entire story of Jesus, Matthew is showing us that following Jesus takes commitment. It requires a willingness to commit our entire selves to a new way of living, the four fishermen left their lives behind, not fully aware of what they were getting themselves into, but they really had very little, if anything, to lose; leaving meant only that they were walking away from a bad situation. A situation with no social mobility and an existence bordering on the verge of homelessness and starvation. Jesus gave them hope that life could be different, in fact his teachings about the good news of the kingdom promised that things would be different, but to participate in the kingdom we must be prepared to change. We can assume that these four gentlemen were willing to make a change because we know that they put down their nets and went with Jesus.
In the past seven years I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on God’s call and as I reflected on the scripture for this morning I was reminded of some of the times I felt change was probably necessary, but also scary. They were times when I felt as though nothing made sense anymore; things that I loved, things that had always been a source of support and inspiration, left me feeling empty and it felt as though nothing would change that. Little did I know that God had plans for me; exciting, frightening, and hope filled plans. I imagine the same was true for the four fishermen. They likely felt stuck, they likely felt like change was necessary, but had no hope that it was possible. I believe that when a person hits rock bottom, whether it be physically, financially, socially, or emotionally they are finally ready to shift their focus away from themselves and onto something with deeper meaning; and they are finally able to actually hear God’s call; not because God wasn’t knocking the entire time, but because they were too busy worshipping false idols to hear the knock. For the four fishermen, their idol could have been the belief that their existence, the life that they were leading, was the only option for them, because that was how their society was structured; but Jesus showed them that there is another way and that way rejects the social, economic, and political norms of human society; it promises that all is equal before God. Jesus demonstrates this by treating every person the same, he does not discriminate based on age, gender, nationality, race, or any other category we can think of. Every person who comes to him and asks for healing is healed; every person who asks a question, receives an answer; every person who is hungry, is fed. No one is turned away. This type of equality, in fact the entire concept of equality, was a radical idea in the 1st century, and unfortunately it seems to be a somewhat radical idea in the 21st century as well, because even though we talk about equality being a core value of our society; our collective actions rarely live up to that value. If our actions matched our values no one would go hungry; no one would freeze to death under a bridge; no one would die of a curable disease; and no one would feel ashamed because they have a mental illness. God has invited us all to go on an adventure; God has called us change our spiritual center of gravity away from the things that we believe are important, away from the things that separate us and onto the things that will bring about true equality for all, we simply need to answer God’s call and let God’s vision for the kingdom guide us.