Saturday, April 5, 2014

Calling His Disciples (part 3)

Strangely, and though there is no mention of fishing in connection to their initial call, it is following the crucifixion, Resurrection, and appearance of Jesus that the Gospel of John provides the first inkling that the disciples had in fact been fishermen (though this fact was probably something that was well known to the early church community and the audience of the author of this Gospel).  In the twenty-first chapter the author writes: “After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias.  Now this is how He did so.  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of His were together” (21:1-2).  As an aside, the mention of Nathanael being from Cana in Galilee provides a clue as to why Jesus, His mother, and His disciples were at the wedding feast in Cana, the story of which is presented immediately following Jesus’ words to Nathanael at the close of the first chapter.  Returning to the text of the twenty-first chapter: “Simon Peter told them, ‘I am going fishing.’ ‘We will go with you,’ they replied.  They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (21:3) 

Where Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Jesus calling His first disciples in Galilee, John has them being called outside of Galilee, and there are no boats or fish anywhere in sight.  At the close of their narratives, Mark concludes with the report of the Resurrection, Luke (and Acts) has Jesus speaking to the disciples in Jerusalem, and Matthew has the disciples on a mountain in the Galilee.  John follows Matthew’s account, at least in terms of region, with the final appearance of Jesus to His disciples taking place in Galilee.  Ironically, Mark, Matthew, and Luke have the disciples fishing when Jesus first calls them, and it is an occupation to which they do not return, whereas John, which offers up a wholly different setting at the time of their calls, has the disciples off and fishing after Jesus makes His first post-Resurrection appearance to them, and it is at this time that they catch a great number of fish.      

The only other specific calling of a disciple recorded in the Gospels is that of Matthew, who is also called Levi.  Similar to the presentation of the calling of the first four, Mark reports that “Jesus went out again by the sea.  The whole crowd came to Him, and He taught them” (2:13).  Once again then, Jesus is near the sea of Galilee.  This time though, similar to Luke’s record of the calling of the first four, Jesus is in the act and process of teaching.  “As He went along, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth.  ‘Follow Me,’ He said to him.  And he got up and followed Him” (2:14).  Matthew says “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth.  ‘Follow Me,’ He said to him.  And he got up and followed Him” (9:9).  Luke writes that “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth.  ‘Follow Me,” He said to him.  And he got up and followed Him, leaving everything behind” (5:27-28). 

As can be seen, the synoptics are essentially univocal in their witness to this particular calling event.  To the contrary though, John does not present the call of Matthew.  In all three synoptic narratives, the calling of Matthew follows the healing of the paralyzed man that had been brought to Jesus by his friends.  In Matthew, there is a significant textual gap between the call of the first four disciples and the call of Matthew, but this gap is not to be found in Mark and Luke, as the call of Matthew comes quickly on the heels of the calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John.  Not only do all three synoptic accounts of the call of Matthew follow immediately after the healing of the paralyzed man, what follows the record of the call is nearly identical in all three as well.  With the differences to be found in these Gospels, as they frequently diverge in their order of presentation, this nearly identical presentation of three events in sequence, with minor differences in detail, is quite remarkable. 

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