Matthew and Mark each offer their take on call narrative
The gospel reading for Sunday, Jan. 22, recounts Matthew’s call story of the first disciples of Jesus. It is commonly accepted that Matthew drew on Mark’s Gospel for the “backbone,” one could say, of his narrative. Comparing both accounts enables one to see the similarities and differences between the two passages.
Mark begins the section thus: “After John was arrested, Jesus came preaching the gospel of God” (1:14). In his typical style, Matthew adds OT prophetic verses about Galilee. With this addition, one can overlook the reality of the cost that John the Baptist paid for his preaching and the danger Jesus accepted when he began preaching. Even though Matthew mentions the arrest of John, Mark’s statement stands in its starkness.
Then both gospels present the well-known call of the four disciples by the sea, first Simon and Andrew and then James and John. Basically, both Gospel passages are the same except Mark reads, “I will make you become fishers of humans,” while Matthew omits “become.” Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus’ struggle to help his followers understand what discipleship demands of them. This is especially true in the journey to Jerusalem where Jesus predicts his coming death and each time the disciples engage in words and behaviors that indicate they do not understand what Jesus is all about and what is expected of them. Moreover, Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies him, and the male disciples are absent from the crucifixion. Clearly, one is not automatically a “fisher of people” but must become one. Matthew presents these very same episodes, yet his surrounding long passages of Jesus’ teachings as well as citations from the Old Testament can obscure the disciples’ failures.
These episodes are often named “call narratives.” However, the Greek words spoken by Jesus, in both Mark and Matthew, are not a polite invitation to follow him, but a command, “Come after me!” The immediate response of each of the four men speaks to the compelling person of Jesus as well as their recognition that Jesus, like John, was a special man of God. Yet their second careers as “fishers of human persons” proved to be a learning experience, a “becoming disciples.” At the close of Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gives his followers another command: “Go make disciples of all nations!” Between the “Come” and the “Go,” the followers must become disciples. We too can acknowledge and accept that our own lives as Christians are a “becoming.”