The Call of the Apostles

After his baptism Jesus begins his ministry in earnest. One of his first steps in building up the kingdom of God is to gather followers around himself. The Evangelists Mathew and Mark recount how Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to this vocation. They tell how while walking along the Sea of Galilee, Christ spotted the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the water and asks them to be disciples, promising to make them fishers of men. Upon hearing this request, the brothers immediately left their nets and followed him. Going on further Jesus encountered the brothers James and John, who were busily mending a torn net in their boat. He inquired if they too wanted to join him and they gladly consented.
A window on the Chapels’ west wall captures Jesus’ plea to Peter and Andrew on the Sea of Galilee. In it, Jesus points to Peter with one hand as he gestures to the distance with the other, a movement that embodies the quote at the bottom of the window: “Come after me and I will make you to become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17; Matt 4:19) In front of Christ kneels St. Peter, who is gray-haired, bearded, and simply attired, as dictated by artistic tradition. Next to Peter stands his younger brother Andrew. On Jesus’ left, in the distance, two men struggle to hoist a net laden with fish into a boat. These men might be generic fisherman or James and John, whom Christ called after Peter and Andrew. On Christ’s right the placid waters of the sea softly lap against a rocky coastline that extends far into the distance. A magnificent tree—perhaps a species of pine—unites the top and bottom of the image. The window is filled with objects associated with fishing: a wooden boat, basket of fish, and hungry seabirds, narrative details that enrich the scene.
The Gospels offer little information on Peter and Andrew’s response to Jesus’ request. Matthew and Mark only recount how the men quickly stopped what they were doing to join him. The window fills out the moment by implying, through dramatic postures and gestures, the apostles’ reaction. Andrew’s act of touching his chest suggests humility, as if he is saying say, “Who me? But I am not worthy!” His gesture of pointing away from the Lord implies an unwillingness to accompany the Savior as well as a preference for the occupation of fishing the sea. Peter’s reaction is easier to understand. Out of humility and respect for Jesus, he instantly drops to his knees. With one hand he points to the Lord, while with the other he motions to the fish in the basket next to him. His hand movements reveal that he seriously weighs the possibilities before him. Should he remain a simple fisherman or aspire to be an apostle of the Lord?
The apostles are not the only ones invited to follow Jesus. Viewers of the windows receive the same invitation. Standing below the window, one gets the sense that Jesus is beckoning to all who stand before. To help us in our decision, the window offers the apostles as role models. This image with its open invitation to discipleship is highly appropriate for Saint John’s Catholic Chapel where students are actively encouraged to discern their vocations.
The quotation comes from the Last Supper, when Christ says to his disciples, “You have not chosen me but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16) Why was this quote chosen, rather than one from the Gospel passage recounting the call of the apostles? Most likely the artist has included it to define the nature of the call as a vocation. God calls everyone and that call leads us to worship, fellowship, and laying down our lives for the love of God and others. The juxtaposition of an image from the early part of Christ’s ministry with a quotation from the later part of it stresses the unity of the Gospels as it connects the stained glass program with the painting of the Last Supper above the altar.