“Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” What does this invitation to follow Jesus Christ mean? What will happen to us and what is expected of us if we truly accept His invitation to follow Him? I have a sign in my office that says, “No one may truly know Christ unless they follow Him in life.” Yet what does it mean to truly follow Christ?
Everyone in this Church calls themselves a Christian, maybe because we were born into a family that called itself Christian or maybe because at one point in our lives we made a conscious decision to become a Christian. However we took on the name of a “Christian,” this implies we are a follower of Jesus Christ. But what does this actually mean?
Maybe we should begin by asking why do we choose to follow Jesus? Is it because of love? Have we truly discovered a relationship of love with Him and we want to follow Him because of our love? Or is it out of fear? Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be punished and go to hell if we don’t listen to Christ and follow Him. It may possibly be because of our desire simply to get a reward. We think if we follow Jesus we will “go to heaven.” In the past, I think many people followed Christ out of what they felt was some social or family obligation or pressure? Yet this reason is fading away as we live in a post-Christian society that no longer encourages this, or come from families themselves that have become so nominal or lukewarm in their own religious commitments that they no longer push and influence us in a positive way to follow Christ.
Whatever the reason WHY we may initially follow Christ, He wants us to discover and understand the central and most important purpose. And that is we follow Him because we come to believe in Him as our Lord and God. As the Apostle Peter noted, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We follow Christ because He is God who has become human and He will show us the path into union with Him; He will show us a path into an eternal relationship of love with our Creator!
Of course, the first followers of Jesus Christ didn’t fully understand this at the beginning. Peter and Andrew, James and John were simple fishermen, faithful Jewish men who were hearing for the first time a charismatic preacher talk about the Kingdom of God and what it means to live under the reign of God here and now.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
“I have come to give you life and to give it to you abundantly.”
These promises may have attracted the first followers, but what’s interesting to note is the initial invitation that Christ makes to what would become His first followers. He sees Peter and Andrew, James and John in their fishing boats and challenges them by saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus offers a clear invitation that has an important message for each one of us today.
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” In other words, right from the start Jesus invites these fishermen to follow Him but with an invitation to become co-workers of His, to become people who will “fish for others,” who will reach out to others.
Jesus makes a point, right from the very beginning, that one cannot follow Him with an egocentric spirit. Yes, if we follow Christ He will bless us, He will comfort us, He will heal us, He will forgive us, He will strengthen us, He will give us new life. Yet, if we follow Christ only for what He can do for us, we completely misunderstand our identity as His disciples.
Jesus says “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Follow Me and you will fish for people by sharing the Good News of My Kingdom and offering my blessings of a new life to others as well. Follow me and I’ll give your life eternal meaning and purpose by making you co-workers with me in the salvation of the world. Follow me and I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of God so that you can unlock the door for others to discover the path of eternal life.”
Jesus would later say to His disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who abides in Me and I in them will bear much fruit. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit I will cast away but every branch that bears fruit I will prune so that it may bear more fruit.”
When we choose to truly follow Christ, we accept to become instruments in the hands of God, bearing fruit in our lives that will attract others to follow Him as well. We accept to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. This is the fruit that will help bring others into the kingdom and presence of God.
Remember, we can’t truly follow Christ if it’s only for ourselves and for our own pleasures. Our faith teaches clearly that our lives are not our own. When Jesus invites us to follow him, it is an invitation to give up lives focused on the superficial and temporary pleasures of life, to give up our egocentric rights and freedom and offer it all back to God. We say, “Lord, here I am, Your servant. Let it be to me according to Your will. Make me an instrument in Your hands. Allow me to be a co-worker in Your plan of salvation. Make me a fisher of men.”
Of course, God never forces us to follow Him. He never forces us to give up our freedom for His sake. We are free to choose. Peter and Andrew, James and John could have chosen not to leave their families, their village, their profession and the life they knew and could have chosen not to follow Christ. They received an invitation which they could have rejected. Yet they listened to Christ’s words and witnessed his life, and when He invited them to “follow Me” they left everything to follow Him. They surely didn’t fully understand what this meant. They didn’t know where He would lead them. They didn’t know how it would change their lives and their future, and how they would help to change the history of the world. They simply were inspired by His words and His life, they trusted Him and decided to follow Him.
In the process of following Him, though, they came to understand that He wanted each of them to become co-workers of His, to become instruments in His hand. They came to understand that following Christ implied “fishing for people.” They joyously accepted this privilege and this challenge to become co-workers with God.
It’s appropriate that we read this Gospel lesson on the Fourth of July, as we Americans celebrated the independence of our country and reflect on the freedom we possess as individuals. We Americans are fiercely proud of our freedom and of our rights. Yet too often we look at these rights in an individualistic and egocentric way. We think “I live in a free country and I am free to do whatever I want and no one can tell me otherwise.”
As Christians, this is a misuse of our freedom. My dear friend Metropolitan John of Korca, who came to America as an Albanian immigrant who had lived through the worst communist regime of the 20th century, would often say to me “America needs another statue to balance its individualistic spirit. On the east coast we have the Statue of Liberty which represents our freedom. This is a special gift Americans cherish. We need another statue on the west coast to balance our freedom, and that is the Statue of Responsibility. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.”
We are free to choose whether or not to accept the invitation of Jesus when He says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Yet if we truly accept this invitation to follow Him, let us never forget the responsibility that comes with our acceptance.
To follow Jesus Christ does not mean we are free not to do whatever we want , to do whatever our ego desires. When we choose to follow Christ, we are choosing to become instruments in His hands, we are choosing to accept His blessings so that we can share His blessings with others!
“Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” When we accept the invitation to follow Christ we are accepting the responsibility of reaching out to other people, of sharing His Good News with the world around us, of inviting others to also follow Christ.
Let me conclude with a beautiful prayer we can offer up every day, that will remind us of our responsibility to become co-workers with God:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring Your love.
Where there is injury, let me offer Your healing and pardon.
Where there is sadness, let me bring Your Presence filled with joy.
Where there is despair, let me bring Your hope.
Where there is doubt, allow me to plant seeds of faith.
Where there is darkness, let me shine forth Your light.
Yes Divine Master, help me not so much seek to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving, that we receive. It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.