Once there was a young man who had a difficult situation to control. There was a riot going–in a church. There was an election for a high church office going on at the cathedral, and the people were so divided and unable to come to a solution peacefully that it threatened to disrupt the entire city. So this young man, who was a minor government official, gathered the local law enforcement representatives and went to where the trouble was and gave an impassioned speech to the angry mob to resolve their dispute as good Christians should. His words were very effective: they calmed down and elected someone quickly to fill the office–him. The only problem is that he wasn’t baptized yet.
The city was Milan, it was the fourth century and the young man in question was St. Ambrose. His words moved the people of the Church of Milan so much that they elected him bishop even though he was only a catechumen. Ambrose tried to refuse and even hid out for a while, but in the end he accepted and became probably the only person in history who was baptized, ordained a priest, and consecrated a bishop on the same day. After his election, he worked hard to educate himself in order to serve his people well, and he became one of the Fathers of the Church, someone whose influence is felt even today. He was also a great hymn writer and encouraged psalm singing in times of trouble.
In today’s Gospel, we have an unusual situation on the shores of the sea of Galilee. A wandering rabbi shows up looking for disciples. Now usually, these disciples would be adolescents who showed some aptitude toward learning in the local synagogue, and would attach themselves to a rabbi they heard teach one weekend and liked. You might equate it to looking for a college go to, or some kind of apprenticeship. Usually, it was the student who went looking.
But here we have four young men who already have a career, working in the family business, not looking for somewhere else to go. When they were 13, they weren’t the ones looking for a rabbi to follow, they didn’t have the intellectual gifts or drive for learning to follow a wandering teacher who was passing through. They’d learned their skills as fishing from the time they would walk, it was what they thought they were destined to do. And these young men, when Jesus talks with them, do something unbelievable: they drop what they’re doing and follow him.
Why is it unbelievable? It’s incredible because it’s not something usually done today. Would two young men working with their father today drop everything and leave the job in the middle of the day? It’s incredible. Why? Because they’re giving up stability. Because they’re leaving families, wives, perhaps children in a time when obedience to family was just as important as obedience to the state, and a family could punish a wayward member with death just like the state could.
This testified how important Jesus was. For men like this to answer such an incredible invitation immediately had to be a sign. A sign that God was at work, a sign that Jesus was more than he seemed to be. A sign they were following the Son of God.
Jesus came to them; Jesus comes to us. We may think we know what we’re good at. We may think we know what our lives are supposed to look like, who we’re meant to be. We may even think we’ve found a career path, a place we belong. But Christ calls all of us to follow him, even if we don’t think we have what He wants. Christ has something He wants us to do, and He will seek us out, come after us, bring it to our attention.
We may not need to give up our careers or all of our plans, our lives may not change as radically as the fishermen at the Sea of Galilee. We do need to think about what we may be called away from to follow Christ. We do need to think of what we may need to walk away from, whose voice we’re listening to.
Jesus calls us here, to the table of life. Jesus calls us to follow him. Jesus calls us to put aside our preconceptions of ourselves and accept his pattern for our lives. How do we answer the call?