As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
It’s easy to see these guys as zealots that didn’t have all their cheese on their cracker or as some guys running off and being brainwashed into a cult. Bonhoeffer talks about them leaving their nets and following because of the greatness of the one calling them. I guess that is a good perspective to support the other things he says about following Christ, but I’ve learned some neat stuff about this whole scenario.
For one is the status of the fishermen. If you were a fisherman, that meant that you flunked out of Rabbi school. this was the top notch calling for all young men. They started at age 5 and memorized memorized memorized. If they got all of the first 5 books of the Bible memorized by age 10, they would move on to the next level. Many of them didn’t, and by their teens were back at the family trade (i.e.. fishing). When a Rabbi came and said, “follow me” that meant that they had been watching you in school, and had picked you to be one of their disciples to carry on their teachings to the next generation. (this is a time when prophets were pretty quiet and a lot of emphasis was put on traditions rather than revelation from God-!!. The more you could keep/preserve/hand down/ a tradition the better.)
So here are Simon-Peter, Andrew, James, and John all fishing. They probably flunked out like everyone else at age 10 or so, or maybe made it through to the next class buy never got picked by a Rabbi. (students could pick a Rabbi too. They would ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” and if he wanted to consider them, he would say “Come and see.” you can see this in John 1.38) Along comes a Rabbi and says to them, “Follow me.” They had missed their chance at the most prestigious and honorable career in Israel. They were probably ashamed when they left and saw the gifted few moving on in school. And here they are, well into their careers as fishermen, and Jesus says “follow me.”
In one person’s telling of this event, they had nets filled with fish! Jesus told them where to fish and Peter basically says “we’ve been fishing all night, but if you say so…” which could be a polite way to give this Rabbi a chance to take back what he said, but if a Rabbi says it, you should do it. So when they leave their nets, they are full of fish and in their fathers’ hands. The Rabbi would take care of all of his disciples’ needs. Housing, food, clothing, and the like would all be provided, so it’s not like a big step of faith to leave their nets. They could also return home after some time, so it’s not like they were running off and joining a cult-never to return.
But they followed Him. They didn’t have to. But they did. I was thinking about it and thought, man, they left nets FULL of fish. If some nights they didn’t catch anything, and here they are with nets busting full of fish, that’s got to be a pretty sweet income for the next week or so. But they left it. Jesus was worth it. It was worth it to these flunkies that missed their chance at following a rabbi to suddenly have a chance to follow a rabbi. And surely they knew the buzz about Jesus, that He was different.
When it says “fish for people” (TNIV) or fishers of men, those are a little watered down from the greek words used. A better word to use would be grab or catch or snatch. it’s the same word used in 2 Timothy 2.26 translated as taken captive. It’s not a guy fishing all night with no luck but a guy putting in his nets and pulling them out filled to overflowing.
He’s still worth it today. He’s still calling flunkies to follow Him. He’s still doing amazing things and saying amazing things, and yes, men are still leaving fat, bursting nets to follow Him-He’s worth it.