This is the fifth and last in a series of very short posts on aspects of human fatherhood in Matthew's gospel. The first four posts can be found via these links:

“The virgin will conceive…”: Human fatherhood and why God can do without it in saving the world

“You shall call his name Jesus”: Human fatherhood and how God uses it in saving the world

“Children for Abraham”: The expendability and urgency of our task

“For God commanded…”: Honouring fathers and honouring the Father

When Jesus calls James and John they are mending their nets with their father. They leave the boat and their father, and follow him.

This is no trivial detail—a circumstantial consequence of the fact that (unlike Simon and Andrew, in the previous verses) the sons of Zebedee happened to be on a job with their dad on the day when Jesus called them. It’s a pattern that Matthew keeps returning to through the rest of his gospel. For the disciples, the call to follow Jesus means (literally leaving the family and the family business to travel around Galilee and Judea to go on the road with the itinerant rabbi Jesus.

This side of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, “following” Jesus obviously doesn’t mean wandering around Galilee with him. But the core question of whether you are prepared to rank your loyalty to him even higher than your loyalty to family (and Jesus ranks that pretty highly) does not fade away at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

When Jesus sends his disciples on mission in Matthew 10, he gives instructions that seem to be deliberately intended (e.g. v. 18) to anticipate some aspects at least of the mission to the Gentiles that they will be sent out on after the resurrection. His words in vv. 21-22 and 34-37 about being prepared to endure even the hatred and opposition of your brother or your father or your children are repeated in more general terms in Matt. 24:10.

The “leaving” decision in this age may not always be the decision to leave a secular career for a paid ministry job—in fact for most Christians it won’t be that—but it may be. Or it may be a decision to do the same job in a different part of the world, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, or a host of other decisions that involve forsaking comforts and possessions and opportunities in order to serve God’s mission in the world.

The preparedness to “leave” and to be “hated”—even by your own father—is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple. And (stepping out of Matthew for a moment into Mark) those who obey that call will end up gaining far more than they have ever lost.

Image: Marco Basaiti: Call of the Sons of Zebedee