As Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22, CEB)
Perhaps it’s because I enjoy fishing so much that this text always catches my eye or maybe it’s because there’s much more going on here than meets the eye.
In Jesus’ time, if a person wanted to become a disciple of a Jewish rabbi or sage, they approached the rabbi and asked to follow him. Jesus did something nearly unheard of when he reversed that sequence: he chose his own disciples. And so from the very start, discipleship with Jesus is different. The call is different in itself, not merely the demands of discipleship. Which gives rise to the question to me today: “As Jesus calls me, how will I respond?”
Many fishermen in Jesus’ day were better off economically than most of the folks around them. While they weren’t even remotely close to being one of the elite of the land (who made up perhaps 1% or less of the population), they were definitely a leg or two up on 90% of the people. Fish was a staple in Galilee and keeping the business “in the family” could only add to economic advantage. But when Jesus called these four disciples, they “left their nets.” It’s even emphasized on the part of James and John that they “left the boat,” apparently with permanence in view. For a fishermen to walk away from his trade, even for a relatively short time, would certainly be costly to himself and all who depended on him. Even now, those who answer Jesus’ call find that it costs them in every way, especially their wallet. The question is obvious: “What do I love most?”
And one thought more. James and John “left … their father.” It was unusual for rabbis of Jesus’ day to expect their disciples to be away from their families to study more than a few days at a time, thirty days being the outside limit for most. But Jesus expected more; much, much more. The potential repurcussions back home are not hard to imagine. And today, this much has not changed: to follow Jesus can mean real strain on familiy relationships. “Who do I love most?,” is the question.
Father in heaven, help me as I fish with you for people, to help them count the cost of following you. May I never leave the wrong impression, that commitment to you is “cheap.” May every heart you call respond not only freely, but fully. This I pray in the name of the Master Fisherman, Jesus. Amen.