The gospel for last Sunday, January 15th, included the following episode,
John was there (by the river Jordan)…with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter. (John 1:35-42)
The gospel for this Sunday, January 22nd (Matt 4: 12-23), tells a different story of the call of Andrew and Simon Peter and presents a challenging inconsistency.
As he (Jesus) walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the lake—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.
In John’s gospel, last week, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter near the Jordan river. In this morning’s gospel they are further north, by the Sea of Galilee. The differing versions of the call raise questions about which one is true. Are the differences significant or trivial?
The most meaningful aspect of the two versions of Jesus’ call of Andrew and Simon Peter is that both tell of a virtually instantaneous response … The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41) … and: Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matt 4:20) Whatever the specific circumstance, the most notable element of the two gospels is that Jesus had a magnetic, Messianic attraction for them. They could not not respond.
For them, meeting the incarnate Word of God was an Epiphany moment. Their lives took on new discipline, direction and depth. The encounter with God’s Son was the hinge event of their lives.
The season of Epiphany tells stories of how God broke into the lives of the Magi, John the Baptist and now, Andrew and Simon Peter, with the good news of his incarnate Son. A star, (Matt 2:2) the Holy Spirit hovering like a dove (John 1:32) and contact with Jesus revealed the Messiah and changed the lives of those who saw.
As dramatic as the moment was, this breakthrough of Christ into their lives was not a single event, but an unfolding metamorphosis of consciousness. Epiphany became a continuous process.
This commentary began in the middle of the gospel for the Third Sunday of Epiphany to emphasize the differences between it and John’s gospel for last week. This Sunday’s gospel actually starts with the following: Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested…
John the Baptist had been the main character of the preceding chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him (Matt 3:13). John had become a lightning rod, calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a ‘brood of vipers” (Matt 3:7) and criticizing Herod for taking his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19). This explains the first phrase of the opening sentence of the gospel: Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested…by Herod.
The introduction to this morning’s gospel continues,
He (Jesus) left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’ This particular quote is a version of Isaiah 9:1, the first reading of the day.
Matthew had addressed his gospel to the early Jewish-Christian community that had been banned from synagogues for its teaching of Jesus as the Messiah. Throughout his gospel, Matthew tried to show the community that Jesus had fulfilled the promises of Hebrew scripture. Zebulun and Naphtali were the first portions of Israelite territory to be swallowed up by Tiglath-Pilser into an Assyrian province in 732 BCE, ten years before the rest of Israel was subjected. Isaiah had proclaimed that the first territories to feel God’s wrath would be the first to receive the news of the coming salvation. Matthew ‘connected the dots’ between Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus.