THE LOOK OF JESUS
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON JANUARY 23, 2011
Matthew 4:19 “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The story of the calling of the first four apostles is rather extraordinary. Here are Peter and Andrew going about their business of fishing, along with two other brothers, James and John – Jesus just walks by and says “Follow me,” followed by this odd remark, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
The most extraordinary thing is that they did that. They immediately left their nets and followed Jesus.
What was it that prompted an immediate response from those four? We know, of course, that Peter was impulsive – but to leave one’s livelihood, and indeed the family business, for some vague invitation to be ‘fishers of men’, whatever that could mean, seems almost irresponsible.
It surely must have been because of the way that Jesus looked at them.
We know that Jesus had a way of looking at people. We would call it insight. “Man looks on the outward appearance,” says scripture, “but God looks at the heart!”
There are numerous examples in the gospels where Jesus looks and sees what was inside a person. And perhaps the most telling occasion is when that rich young man came to Jesus, and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life.
St. Mark 10:21 says “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him.”
The ‘look’ of Jesus. How could, indeed, Peter and Andrew and James and John resist the look of Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee!
This account is from Matthew’s Gospel. John’s Gospel has a different version of the call of Peter. In the first chapter of St. John, Andrew has already left John the Baptist and started following Jesus. He went and got Simon, his brother, and brought him to Jesus. And the gospel records that Jesus looked at him and said “so you are Simon, son of John, you shall be called Cephas, which means Peter.” There is that ‘look’ of Jesus again.
The ‘look’ of Jesus is of penetrating insight, and overwhelming love.
But Jesus’ look could be more than insight. On Maundy Thursday, there is that moment where Peter denies Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, suggest that Peter and Jesus were at quite a distance when Peter denied Jesus. But Luke says that Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard and warmed himself, so that he could be really near and see what was happening to Jesus.
In a chilling description, Luke records “…and immediately, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”
That night, the “look’’ of Jesus reduced Peter to tears. ‘’And he went out and wept bitterly”. No doubt Peter’s tears were partially because he remembered the first time when Jesus looked at him and said “follow me’’.
Of course, Peter’s response at the Sea of Galilee that day was not an impulsive reaction to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. The call of those first apostles did not come out of thin air, as if Jesus didn’t even know them.
John the Baptist had already pointed those apostles on the way to Jesus. And in a reversal of insight, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” In that case, it was John looking at Jesus.
The gospel records that some of John the Baptists disciples immediately follow Jesus, including Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. So if we put the Gospels of John and Matthew together, we see the response of these men to Jesus is a direct result of the witness of John the Baptist. And this is the pattern not just for the calling of the first disciples, but for all of us!
Witness evokes faith, and faith leads to following Jesus.
Going back to my childhood, there are two people who ‘witnessed’ about Jesus to me: my grandmother and my Sunday school teacher. I’m sure all of us have a similar story about some figure in our youth, in our childhood, who somehow, although we did not know it, witnessed to Jesus.
Now, it is our turn to witness to Jesus.
There is another thread here also: John the Baptist was the witness upon whom all the other responses depended. Without him, there would have been no immediate response by Peter and Andrew and James and John. This reminds us that faith is not held in isolation. We cannot be a Christian without interacting with others.
It is true that Jesus called the apostles personally, and, indeed, his message was ‘repent’. But it was not just an individual conversion of a single person. They were called to be the foundation of the church, the Body of Christ.
St. Paul talked about that image in his epistles. The body, of course, is an example of unity, which should be reflected in the Church.
The call of the first disciples was instigated by an act of witness by John the Baptist, which then leads to faith. It was followed by the call of Jesus to ‘follow me”.
Like John the Baptist, Jesus preached repentance. But it was a call to conversion that leads to being a part of his body, the Church.
And we see the same thing in St. Paul’s call to be an apostle.
This Tuesday, the church celebrates St. Paul’s conversion. Jesus looked at him in a vision, and Paul followed him. And from then on, he set out to found churches all over the known world.
The call to follow Jesus leads to the church. It is a call for us within the church to live in obedient service to God, and not to be individualistic.
It is in marked contrast to the trendy doctrine that seeks what is best for me first. It is contrast in the Book of Common Prayer phrase, “whose service is perfect freedom”, and the catch-cry “I am what I am.”
Our challenge, as followers of Jesus, is to be less the individual doing our own thing, and more a member of the church, involved with others, in growth and witness.
It is a way of life that is contrary to the world around us, but is focused on the world to come!
And this comes from the confidence we have that Jesus has looked upon us and loved us!