Call and response (Matthew 4:12-23)

‘Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He 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.’

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
As he 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. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.’

This week we hear again Jesus’ call to his first followers, his first disciples, and their response, which was to follow Him, not knowing where that road would take them: Jesus’ death in brutal circumstances, their scattering, their persecution, and in many cases their own deaths at the hands of their enemies.

Today is also the day in the church calendar when we remember the call to and response of – we call it conversion – the man who would come to be known as St Paul.  Previously one who had been persecuting Christians, Paul was to become the foremost of all the disciples, bringing the message of Jesus to a wide audience of both Jews and non-Jews.

The response of both the first disciples and St Paul is reported as being dramatic and immediate.  If only it was that way for us, without what-ifs, ands, ors or buts!

I love the poetry of John Betjeman, and his poem “The Conversion of St Paul” puts into words what many of us Christians must feel about our belief, our “conversion” but are perhaps too scared to admit.  No blinding light, occasional glimmers, frequent darkness, slowly turning to Jesus and continuing on upheld only by hope, not knowing what might await us like those very first followers.  He finishes the poem like this:

What is conversion? Not at all
For me the experience of St Paul,
No blinding light, a fitful glow
Is all the light of faith I know
Which sometimes goes completely out
And leaves me plunging into doubt
Until I will myself to go
And worship in God’s house below –
My parish church -and even there
I find distractions everywhere.

What is Conversion? Turning round
To gaze upon a love profound.
For some of us see Jesus plain
And never once look back again,
And some of us have seen and known
And turned and gone away alone,
But most of us turn slow to see
The figure hanging on a tree
And stumble on and blindly grope
Upheld by intermittent hope.
God grant before we die we all
May see the light as did St Paul.

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