Epiphany is the season in which we open - or have opened on our behalf - the gift that comes to us at Christmas. During Epiphany, the gift is opened for us, a little at the time, by the testimony of a series of colourful characters. First, we mark the arrival of those profoundly mysterious eastern scholars; Magi, Wise Men, Kings. No matter what we choose to call them, these are people of learning and stature who come to Bethlehem from the very limits of the known world, bringing gifts, in adoration and tribute to the newborn Jesus. Their gifts are intended as signs both of present wonder and of future glory.
The testimony of John the Baptist reinforces the testimony of the Wise Men, years later. Both testimonies are valid and we do well to attend to both. Still, they are vastly different in their origins. Whereas the Magi were astrologers who studied signs in the stars to learn about Jesus, John the Baptist heard the voice of the God which told John the Baptist who Jesus was, and John the Baptist told everyone within earshot.
With this week’s reading from Matthew 4, we begin to see Jesus as the disciples saw him. The disciples were simpler and less complicated people than either the Magi or John the Baptist. They related the earth-shaking effect Jesus’ life had on theirs, by recounting their experiences with Jesus. Their account begins with Jesus' first words to them: "Follow me." These accounts are instructive for us. Each had been taught from infancy about God's promise of a Messiah and were hopeful, about the sweeping changes that would follow. This was despite no one knowing how the Messiah would make himself known.
Even so, they probably expected something a bit flashier than the scene described in the Matthew 4 reading. Jesus' entry into the lives of the disciples was simply as they were going about their daily business of making a living. Not one of the disciples was engaged in an activity that was particularly religious. They were engaged in the day-to-day necessity of providing food and shelter for themselves and their families. Jesus came to them, where they were, as they were. Out of his matchless Grace, he said to them, "Follow me" and, out of their nameless hunger and longing, they dropped what they were doing and followed.
Jesus' invitation, and the disciples' acceptance of it, marks the beginning of an adventure that continues to this day. Still, it is essential to know that when these men dropped their nets and went after Jesus, they had no illusions. There was not a starry-eyed dreamer in the whole group. There was ample evidence of the probable consequences of what they were undertaking as Rome did not govern with subtlety. The future for the follower of an itinerant rabbi was not at all promising but they still they followed.
Jesus has come to humanity with the same straightforward invitation from that day to this. Through the centuries, Jesus called all sorts of people. Some were noble whose names we remember. Some were common whose names are lost to us. Jesus called a rich young man named Augustine and a rich man's son whose name was Francis. He called a nun named Teresa and a medieval noblewoman named Julian. Their experiences of following Jesus continue to echo down the years to us; in their writings and in the communities, they inspired.
In my life time, Jesus has called people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Janani Luwum, Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu. Each were keenly aware of the hazards involved and yet they put aside what they were doing and answered Jesus' call. They followed, and their lives stand in monumental testimony to the irresistible power of God's Love. Jesus calls and people drop whatever they are doing to follow him. Jesus' invitation compels us because it issues out of God's love. Jesus' invitation calls us into community with God and with each other.
It urges us to reach beyond ourselves; to risk pushing beyond known, comfortable, limits. When we accept Jesus' invitation, we find that we are transformed and long to have our lives make sense. In and through Jesus, we see God's love mediated to us in new and compelling ways. With every grace-filled day, we are reshaped and become the persons God created us to become. We participate in the depth and breadth of that marvellous mystery at Jesus' invitation: "Follow Me." As we follow, by God's infinite Grace, we are empowered to carry the light of God's love into the farthest, darkest corners of God's world.