Fish Stories: “Left in the Dust,” Matthew 4: 18-22

Show of hands, how many Andy Griffith Show fans do we have here this morning? (Note to Readers, almost every hand in the crowd went up) That’s what I figured. That’s something I discovered when I first moved here, the people of Cleveland County love the Andy Griffith Show. And when I say love I mean all caps, extra o’s in the middle, as if they were a middle school couple passing a note, “LOOOOOOOOOOOVE” the Andy Griffith show. Don’t get me wrong, I have what I think is a healthy appreciation for the Andy Griffith show, but I moved here and all of sudden people are connecting every aspect of their lives to some random episode, it was crazy. So I assume even our non-fans know the opening to the show right? Andy and Opie are on their way either to or from a lovely father/son fishing trip. Full disclosure, neither I nor my dad are avid fishermen so I have never been on a father/son fishing trip. I have gone fishing with my uncle. Specifically I went with my uncle and my oldest cousin, who’s like 10 years older than me. So while I haven’t been on a father/son trip of my own I have been the third wheel for one. We went when I was like 11 or 12, right at prime “Opie” age, so my cousin was 21 or 22 and back home on break from college. I was not their first choice. I was not the first fishing partner they had tried to recruit for this excursion, I have two other cousins from that family, both of whom had been taken for fishing trips before and found wanting. I have a female cousin who is 18 months older than me, apparently when she went with them she was very quickly bored and miserable, and she kept letting them know about it by grabbing the cell phone and pretending she was going to throw it into the lake. Unbeknownst to my uncle, every time she grabbed the phone she was punching in a few numbers, so after three or four times she had dialed their home phone and proceeded to beg her mom to come get her.

I tell you that story to get to this question or statement I guess: that’s not the way family fishing trips are supposed to go, right? There’s a reason Andy and Opie are fishing in the opening credits of the show, we learn something about Andy in that moment. Even if we have never seen the show, even if we don’t know anything about what’s going on, those opening credits are meant to reveal something to us. We see Andy taking his son fishing, they’re having a good time, and so we know or are supposed to know from that Andy is good father. Andy is a good person. Family fishing trips are supposed to end well, not with people in tears begging for a way to go home (full disclosure, we had a great time, we caught a lot of fish, and I was invited back). Family fishing trips should end with everyone happy, not with someone in tears refusing to go back, and certainly not with dad left alone in the boat while his sons go off with some stranger.

Last week we saw Luke’s account of how the first disciples were called and it came after a miracle. Jesus aids Simon Peter and his crew in catching fish after they had failed to do so, so many fish that their nets threatened to burst and their boats began to sink. Matthew doesn’t include the miracle. That can give us pause, but don’t get bogged down. People, I think, get too bent out of shape trying to make all of the Gospels fit together. If I asked my uncle and both cousins about that ill-fated fishing trip I’d probably hear three different versions of what went down. They would emphasize different things, each one might even leave some details out in order to steer me in a certain direction or towards a different conclusion. The same thing happens in the Gospels. Luke and Matthew have different sources, they have different audiences, they’re trying to emphasize different things, don’t overthink it, just let the stories speak for themselves.

Matthew tells us that soon after Jesus’ baptism, temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of his preaching career he is walking along, notices Peter and Andrew casting nets into the water from the shore, and invites them to come and follow him. Things should start jumping out at us right there, the biggest of which is that the roles are reversed of what they should be. Potential disciples are supposed to come looking for rabbis, not the other way around. Rabbis would sit and wait for folks to flock to hear them and then beg to get the chance to learn underneath of them, it was beneath the status of the position to ask for a follower. It is sort of like, and this is maybe a stretch, but did you know that if a President gets reelected to a second term the entire cabinet resigns? The reason for that is that it is considered beneath the office of the President to have to ask for your resignation if he or she wants to make a change. The same principle is there, some things are beneath an office. The President shouldn’t have to ask you to resign, a rabbi shouldn’t have to go searching for followers. But Jesus does search down and called his followers, keep that tucked away for minute.

At once, Peter and Andrew drop their nets and follow Jesus. At once is important, tuck that away as well. Jesus, and his now growing posse, walk a little bit further and find James and John in the boat with their father Zebedee getting ready to go out for the day’s work. Now we’re not specifically told this but there is an assumption that Zebedee is also Peter and Andrew’s boss. So you might imagine he’s confused as he sees two of his workers who are supposed to be casting nets walking up with this stranger. Again Jesus extends an invitation, and immediately James and John leave the boat and their father to go and to follow him. And poor Zebedee is left there, in the dust, with a boat that needs a crew and nets lying on the ground, as his sons and his work force go off to follow this man he knows nothing about.

Two things are at play in this story that draw out questions we need wrestle with here 2000 years later I think, both of which deal with these disciples leaving. We need to look at “what” they leave and “when” they do it. To drive that home though, I want to compare this moment in scripture with another we see, this one from Luke’s gospel. In Luke 9 we see a different thing playing out, this time people come up to Jesus and want to follow him. Untuck that thing about Jesus doing the calling we talked about earlier, now we see “correct” or at least more traditional scenario playing out. This scene comes later in Jesus’ ministry, he’s an established commodity at this point:

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”


A first man walks up to Jesus and says “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus’ response is basically “well you’re going to get your chance because I don’t know where I’m going. “Foxes have dens, birds have nests, the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus and the disciples are homeless. They don’t know where they’re going to sleep each night, they don’t know where that day’s meals are going to come from when they wake up, there’s a “what” that they give up when they decide to follow Jesus, and that “what” is their security, their livelihood, and their families. Peter and Andrew drop their nets, the tools of their profession, John and James leave their father sitting alone in a boat. When these men decided to follow Jesus it cost them something.

Has it ever cost us anything? I wrestle with that question a lot, I’m not going to lie to you. Martin Luther said that “a religion that costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing.” Has following Jesus ever cost you something? Have you ever suffered for it? Maybe a more important question for us is “would we?” Would we suffer? Would we pay the price? When a time comes that our faith may cost us something will we be willing to drop our nets and leave our boats. I look at “the church” as a whole and it seems to me we’ve gotten really good at adjusting our faith to make sure it doesn’t cost us anything. We’ve gotten really good at making adjustments and changing our tune so that we can keep positions of power and influence and not lose anything. My fear is that if we do that as a church (universal) we do it as individuals as well. When the moment comes that following Jesus costs us something will we be willing to pay the price. And if the moment doesn’t come does it mean we’re doing something wrong? If following Jesus hasn’t cost us something are we sure we’re really doing it right?

A thirty-two year old woman died yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia because she woke up in the morning and decided that enough was enough, that the evil on display in the marching of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis was worth giving up her day to protest. She didn’t come home. Her belief cost her something. I don’t know, there’s no way of knowing, if thought she might not survive the day crossed her mind. But I bet it will cross the minds of the next people who go to stand up against hatred. When the time comes that our faith may cost us something will we be willing to risk the price?

After the man who would follow Jesus anywhere, (I think its interesting we don’t find out how he responded once he found out what that really meant) Jesus and the disciples come up to another man and Jesus says “follow me.” And the man says “I’d love to, let me go bury my father.” And Jesus say no. Now there’s a potential thing going on with the translation here, it isn’t necessarily the case that this man’s dad is dead and waiting to buried and Jesus says “no time for funerals,” the man may be saying “when my parents die I’ll follow you.” Compare that to John and James who leave their dad alone in the boat. There’s that pesky question of cost again. But the man wants some more time and the man who comes after him wants the same thing, “let me get my affairs in order and then I’ll come with you.” That brings us to the second thing that is a play in the decision of these disciples to follow Jesus, there’s a “what” but there’s also a “when.” At once Peter and Andrew drop their nets. Immediately John and James get out of the boat. “Once my parents are gone and I don’t have the same responsibilities.” “After I get everything squared away at home.” Pretty big difference there, right? We are very good, as people, at talking about the things we’ll do tomorrow. One my friends who is a pastor, and like most pastors he’s older than me so I’ll call him a mentor as well, sometimes talks about the things he’ll do “in five years when I’m a good pastor.” We all assume we’ll be better in the future. We all assume things will be easier tomorrow and everything will fall into place and it will all work out. What we see here is that tomorrow doesn’t work when it comes to following Jesus. I’m really bad about hitting the snooze button in the mornings and getting that five extra minutes, and then five more and then five more until I don’t have five minutes left and I’m rushing out the door. Too many people go through life pushing snooze. Too often we keep grasping for that five extra minutes, talking about what we’ll do tomorrow. And the sad reality is that for most of us tomorrow doesn’t get here until something rocks us out of waiting. Tomorrow only becomes today when we’ve run out time. Tomorrow only becomes today when we get the diagnosis we weren’t expecting. Tomorrow only becomes today when we lose our job. Tomorrow only becomes today when our spouse says they’ve had enough. You’ve heard me say this before, “its important to know the songs before midnight.” Its important not to wait until decisions are made for us or forced on us. We cause ourselves a whole lot of pain and a whole lot of trouble when we wait for tomorrow to be forced on us. The alternative is not to wait. At once Peter and Andrew drop their nets. Immediately James and John leave the boat. The answer to the question of “when” to take following Jesus seriously is right now. Maybe we ought to pray about that.

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