From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
Here we see Jesus walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee forming His church from among those he chose. In this story, He chose and called Peter, Andrew, John and James, who were all commercial fishermen in the Sea of Galilee.
Even though this was probably not the first encounter these men had had with Jesus, their response was nonetheless astounding. It’s likely that they had all heard the previous preaching of John the Baptist. It seems Andrew at least had followed John the Baptist for a while. Whatever the full background, at the time of their calling, the four men were simply busy earning their living as fishermen.
Here is where I want to depart a bit from what I usually hear as the narrative concerning these four men. Almost without fail, I see them characterized as “ignorant, unlearned fishermen.” Wellllllllllll….maybe, maybe not. I don’t find anything to indicate that any of them were part of the intellectual elite of the time, but a reading of Scripture tells us that there was more to them than just the label of, “ignorant, unlearned fishermen.”
Fishing could be a lucrative business on the Sea of Galilee, and at least in the case of John and James, the sons of Zebedee, there is plenty of reason to suspect this is so. In the Synagogue at Capernaum, there is a bench or a furnishing if you will, apparently purchased by a man identified as a Zebedee. The family had purchased a pew in the church. Clearly, service in the Synagogue was a part of their lives. We see in Mark’s account of the calling of John that the family business had employees. (Mark 1:20) John seemingly had a home in Jerusalem, because after the Crucifixion he took Mary, the mother of Jesus, there. (John 19:27) John seemed to have known the High Priest because this enabled Peter to be in the courtyard of his home as Jesus was under arrest. (John 18:16) John, at least was from a family of some means.
How does this change the common narrative here? Well poor, ignorant and unlearned young men are ripe for the picking to join up with any radical movement that seems to offer them a way out; affluent young men from successful families…not so much.
Yet, in our story, we see that they DID give it all up. John, James, Peter and Andrew all dropped their nets, abandoned their family business, and took off into the unknown with the man they recognized as the promised Messiah.
They turned their backs on their entire lives and followed Jesus. Wow to this. What’s our problem then? We can’t even be bothered to read our Bibles, go to church more than twice a month, or be bothered to speak to another living soul about the man we supposedly know to be the promised Messiah!