The call to discipleship stands at the heart of the gospels, reminding us that faith is something more than an intellectual assent to Gospel values. From the beginning of his ministry Jesus invited those he encountered to “come, follow me”. Those who accepted this invitation became disciples. Their lives were committed not only to knowing about Jesus, but to growing in his likeness. They committed themselves to learn from Jesus, a process that would frequently challenge the values of former lives. Theirs would be lives of gradual conversion, in which, over and over again, they would be challenged to turn away from sin and to embrace Christ.
The readings today set before us the steps we must take if we are to live as disciples in faith rather than mere passengers.
Matthew’s Gospel beautifully outlines the context in which we are called to become disciples. He draws attention to Galilee,
the place in which Jesus first proclaimed the Gospel, and in which the first disciples were called. He does so through the beauty of Isaiah’s words – words that describe more than mere location: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. They rejoice in your presence as men at harvest time.”
The words remind us that discipleship stands in sharp contrast to the darkness of a life lived without Christ. All without exception will have experienced the darkness of sin and the shadows of disappointed hope. We carry with us the darkness of the past, and the call to discipleship is nothing less than an invitation to embrace the light that is Christ.
As the passage continues Jesus sets before us the first step in discipleship, a step that must be constantly renewed: “Repent,
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Christ’s kingdom is present to us in every prayer, every thought that calls us to believe that we can indeed live in his light, that we can repent and entrust the past to his forgiveness. We must never take this step for granted, embracing it, whenever possible, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Repentance, frequently renewed, opens our lives to the call that Jesus made to Peter and Andrew: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
On one level the response of those first disciples could be described as bordering on the naïve. Seemingly without reflection they abandoned everything and followed him. As the gospels unfold we come to understand that the strength of their response was something more than naïveté. It was God’s presence stirring in their hearts, enabling a generosity beyond their imagining.
In prayer let us give our thoughts to what our lives might become if we surrendered ourselves to Christ’s love and generosity. Let us allow such thoughts to become his personal invitation to follow him. Above all, let us believe that with the invitation Christ gives himself, and his own strength, that we might follow him.
Matthew concludes this passage with the observation that Jesus carried the Good News to the whole region. When we surrender ourselves to his invitation, his grace at work within us, enriches our homes, our families, and indeed our whole world.
We become the living signs that proclaim that the kingdom is close at hand.