They left their nets and followed him – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

St. Andrew the Apostle

Matthew 4: 18-22 and John 1: 35-42

Today has been a day full of celebrations in Scotland, because today is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland. From all the flagpoles has been flying the ‘saltire’, the cross of St. Andrew which is shaped like an X, signifying how, at his own request, Andrew was crucified, deeming himself unworthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross as Jesus. Andrew has always been a very popular saint, and is patron of many countries, as well as Scotland, including Russia and Greece. Not surprisingly he is hugely venerated in the Orthodox Church, where he is called the ‘protokletos’, or ‘first called’, for in John’s Gospel he is the first disciple to be called by Jesus. The Orthodox also regard him as being the first Patriarch of Constantinople.

That all seems so distant from that simple and very beautiful story in our Gospel today from Matthew, where Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew his brother who are casting nets into the sea – ‘for they were fishermen.’ And Jesus says to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ I have always loved the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, and when I first visited the Holy Land one of my most moving experiences was of standing quietly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking out over the lake, and imagining Jesus walking up to me and saying to me, ‘Come, follow me.’

But I have also been intrigued by that other story which John tells, about Jesus calling Andrew. In John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, we are told that John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, as Jesus was walking by. One of these two disciples was Andrew. As Jesus walks by John the Baptist says, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’ So, Andrew and the other disciple of John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following him and says, ‘What are you looking for? They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ And he said to them, ‘Come and See’.

So, we have this story in John about the calling of Andrew, the ‘first called’, and then we have this other story of Andrew’s call by the Sea of Galilee, which took place sometime later. We know it was later because Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had by now been arrested. So, what do we make of these two apparently different stories about the call of Andrew: the earlier one that took place not far from Jerusalem, where John was baptizing, and then the later one in Galilee?  What I think it tells us is that the call of Andrew came in stages. It took time. And this certainly fits my own experience of coming to faith.

When Andrew first sees Jesus and hears his teacher John the Baptist describe him as the Lamb of God, he longs to know more and starts to follow this intriguing figure. Jesus turns and looks at him. But he doesn’t say, ‘Follow me.’ At this stage he simply says, ‘Come and See’. Come and spend some time with me. Let’s talk! Andrew stayed with him all day. We can imagine him sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, asking questions. Perhaps by the time Andrew left, he had already decided he wanted to follow Jesus, because he immediately went off to tell his brother Simon what had happened. ‘We’ve found the Messiah! Come and see for yourself.’ Perhaps they both came to faith that day.  But it was only later, as they worked their trade on the lakeside in Galilee that they made the decisive step of leaving all and actually following Jesus. For now, Jesus was starting his ministry, and he needed them now. Now, ‘Come, follow me.’ Now was the moment once and for all, to throw in their lot with Jesus. So, they left their nets behind and followed him.

I wonder if this is familiar to you in your experience of coming to faith? Perhaps you too came to faith in stages, perhaps sometimes reluctantly.  Perhaps you are, even now, facing the challenge once and for all, to throw in your lot with Jesus. And what would that mean, for you? For Andrew and Simon, it meant leaving their nets, their homes, their families, leavingall behind. For you, for me, we may not be called to leave our families and homes and work behind in the same way. But to follow Jesus we must leave our ‘world’ behind, and enter a new world. To enter this new world, which is the Kingdom, we have to radically change direction. To be a follower of Jesus is to turn around and in the words of Colossians, to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’ If we choose to follow Jesus each of us will be challenged to completely change direction and to ‘leave our nets behind’. That will mean something different for each one of us.  And what I have discovered, after more than twenty years in the monastic life, is that Jesus never stops calling us to follow him. Every morning, at the beginning of every new day, there is this gracious invitation to say ‘yes’, to leave all and ‘Come follow me.’

Today we give thanks to God for St Andrew. We pray that like him we may have grace to say ‘Yes’ every day to the call to follow Jesus. We pray that each day we may lift our eyes ‘to things that are above’, to see the glory which awaits us, and which calls us ever on.


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  1. Barbara Bertrand on November 30, 2022 at 10:07

    Bro. I’m reading this a year later it is very insightful.personally I think I miss the invite but will need to look

  2. Rusty Elliott on November 30, 2022 at 08:57

    I love this. Brother Geoffrey describes how Jesus so gently calls us to him – over time – recognizing and respecting each of our personal circumstances and loving each of us so sweetly as we hear and begin to answer his call. Some people may experience a nearly instantaneous conversion, but that may not be the case for all of us. Brother Geoffrey reminds us this is okay. We have the example in the Gospels of Saint Andrew who encountered conversion perhaps in stages. My own conversion initially took months – following years (decades, really) of my own resistance. It has been 20 years since I first declared myself to be a Christian and started to follow Christ. Yet now in my 60’s I continue to undergo what I believe is reconversion – with God’s help – over and over, day by day by day. Benedictine spirituality also embraces this notion of ongoing conversion through its vow (or value – for lay people like me) of conversatio morem, which is sometimes translated as “conversion of life” or “constant reconversion.” Brother Geoffrey’s description this morning of Andrew’s journey offers hope and comfort for me as one who has taken a bit more time in learning to answer Jesus’s call. Thank you, Brother Geoffrey, for today’s homily.

  3. Melissa on November 30, 2022 at 07:52

    Br. Geoffrey, Thank you so much for finding this “discrepancy” between the two stories and pulling the threads together. It came as a shock to me that I had never noticed the difference before!! But it makes a huge impact on the story in Matthew where the two brothers just stand up from their boat and leave their dad and go with Jesus. If they were already students of John the Baptist, they were already looking for deeper meaning in their lives. Maybe they’d had long conversations with their dad about the direction their lives were taking and the deeper possibilities of their service to God. I really want to thank you for calling this out, that Andrew and Simon Peter were already seekers, and that Andrew had already spent time talking with Jesus. From this perspective it is so much more understandable that they would leap off the boat when Jesus asked them to follow. The saltire will make me pause with a hand on my heart from now on.
    Note to readers — Br. Geoffrey’s recorded sermon is a bit longer than the text, and as always, worth the listen.

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