Summary: Jesus calls us to fish for men? How do we do this?
Fishers of Men
It was the morning after a bad night of fishing if we read in from Luke 5. The disciples were tired. Simon and Andrew were in one boat, and apparently James and John were in another. They were near shore and casting their nets. We get more details in Luke, but for purposes of brevity, I will stick to the account given here in Mark which is also substantially the same as that given in Matthew.
It seems from John 1 that Andrew and John had been disciples of the Baptist, and we also know that Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus. It also says they stayed the day with Jesus. If we are to harmonize this account to John, we have to take the previous encounter as temporary in that they soon went back to work. This is not unlike the picture we get of the disciples in John 21 which records a similar incident to that recorded in Luke.
So we should realize that the call to be fishers of men we see in this morning’s passage was not a complete leap of faith into the dark as Kierkegaard thinks. They had some knowledge of Jesus personally. And although they probably not scholars and invited by the Rabbi of their synagogue for further study, they were at least given a primary education in Scriptures. The disciples were portrayed by the Jewish authorities in Acts as uneducated idiots, but one must be careful not to read too much into ad hominem attacks against someone’s character.
As fishermen who had to sell their fish, they had to have enough business sense to barter. And as Greek culture had invaded Palestine for almost 350 years, this probably included the idea that at least one of them knew some Greek. They may also have been literate as well. Amongst their peers, they tended more to the middle class than a lot of the poor of the land surrounding them.
God was preparing the disciples for a much greater purpose than the catching of fish. He was working on them even before the existential moment when Jesus commands them to follow Him permanently. I feel this is true of anyone God calls to the work of ministry. Paul certainly felt this way as did Jeremiah. Even Abraham before his call in Genesis 12 had attained to some degree of education and culture, even though He did not know Yahweh. And he may have been called more than once as the Scripture says in one place that he was called out of Ur of the Chaldees. But in Genesis it says that his father removed from Ur to Haran, and that is where God calls to Abraham in Genesis 12.
Many who have been called to ministry by the Lord does not get it the first time. Many of us like Jonah run the other way until this call is repeated with authority. Then we now we must follow Jesus. And this is the type of call the disciples understood. To them it was confirmed as Luke reports by a miraculous catch of fish. This time they knew Jesus was for real. They had grappled with this before, but now they knew. They left all behind and followed Jesus. Perhaps the catch of fish was so great that the sale of them would cover the loss to Zebedee of valuable workers.
The disciples had not come into contact with the god of the philosophers as Pascal recounts in his vision, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God’s word created the universe, so when God speaks with authority, things will happen. Jesus speaks with divine authority “Follow Me” and they follow, just as when the Lord appeared to Abraham and Abraham left all to follow Jesus.
Just like Abraham had no idea of what to expect, neither did these fishermen. All they were told is that they were called to catch men rather than fish. What a journey of wandering through Palestine and then to the ends of the earth following Jesus. Their lives were to be that of pilgrims just like Abraham who never possessed in his earthly life and more of the Promised Land than a cemetery plot. These disciples had some ideas of Jesus and ideas about the Messiah, but most of their preconceptions were wrong. Jesus would patiently teach them as He prepared them for their work of ministry. Preparing is the first work of obedience for one called to Christian discipleship. They needed to learn before they could tell.
In looking at this text today, we must realize that there was a degree of the call to these men which is different than ours. We are not to be called “Apostles” in the formal sense as we did not walk with Jesus on earth. Neither are earthy witnesses to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. But God has given us more than just a book, the Bible to go by, although it is thoroughly and throughly inspired. There is also the confrontation by the Holy Spirit which affirms and interprets the written Word.