Did you notice something familiar but different about today’s gospel reading? We heard John’s version (John 1:29-42) of the same story last week. Today’s reading from Matthew describes Jesus calling his first disciples. Last week’s reading from John told the same story. There are, however, differences. In John’s version, Andrew is a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew follows Jesus after John the Baptist declares Jesus to be “the One.” After spending time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother Simon (aka Peter) and brings Simon to Jesus. Today’s reading from mentions the same brothers but tells a different story. Andrew and Simon are fishing when they both encounter Jesus. Jesus tells them to “follow me” and they do. The two brothers drop everything to follow Jesus. Both stories overlap but I’m wondering what to do with two different stories of the same event.
One thing we can try is mix these stories together. This is what we do with Jesus’ birth (i.e. the magi and shepherds are not in every gospel). We could say Matthew’s account is a “big-picture” approach while John’s account has more details. Andrew fishes for a living and is also a disciple of John the Baptist. In Jesus’ conversation with Andrew and the unnamed person, the words about being “fishers of people” comes up. Andrew finds Simon and brings him to Jesus. Both abandon their professions to follow Jesus full time.
The mixing approach can help add details to Jesus’ story but I’m not sure this approach works today. When we mix the stories together, we lose the details that make these call stories life giving. In John’s version, John the Baptist connects Jesus to his Jewish history. Without that connection, we could ignore the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and focus only on the New. We could forget that Jesus lived in a specific time and in a specific place. The connection with John the Baptist requires us to tie Jesus’ story (and our story) with the story of Israel. God’s activity in history becomes part of our story and our history. Matthew, however, is less concerned with that connection because the Gospel according to Matthew spends a lot of time showing how Jewish Jesus is. From the birth story through the resurrection, Jesus and his family are connected to their Jewish identity. What matters to him is how Jesus’ calling interrupts the priorities we set in our lives. When Jesus tells us to “follow him,” we are his, forever.
When it comes to the Bible, conflicting stories are not problems that need to be mixed and fixed. Conflicting stories show how Jesus’ ministry impacted many different kinds of people in many different ways. Just like the early followers of Jesus reflected on how Jesus made a difference to them, we are invited to do the same. After all, the Holy Spirit gave us four books about Jesus because we need more than one story to see just how God loves the entire world.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 1/22/2017.