In Galilee, Jesus summoned four fishermen to leave their livelihoods to become his disciples – Mark 1:16-20.
The discipleship taught by Jesus differed from the practices of the rabbis. His followers were called to leave everything and dedicate their whole lives to his mission. And they were called to follow him. In contrast, students educated by the rabbis became disciples of the Torah and not of individual teachers.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John were not poor by the standards of their day. Their families owned boats and nets, and there is even mention of “hired help.” Fishing was an essential business that occupied entire clans and even towns, and investments in nets and boats were substantial.
The fishing trade was important to the economic life of the area, and ancient records show that fish from the Sea of Galilee were exported to cities as far away as Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt.
- (Mark 1:16-20) – “And passing by near the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And straightway, leaving the nets, they followed him. And going forward a little, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, and them who were in the boat putting the nets in order. And straightway, he called them and leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, they followed him” – (Parallel passages – Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 5:1-11).
Simon and Andrew had some level of education, and very likely, they spoke languages in addition to Aramaic, and Greek was the language of commerce in the eastern Mediterranean region. For that matter, “Andrew” is a Greek name.
Mark describes the calling of these fishermen with the vivid term “straightway,” that is, “immediately,” a favorite word used by Mark in his gospel.
Simon and Andrew responded “immediately” by leaving their occupations and family assets. This suggests they departed with little hesitation. Jesus instructed them to follow him, and thereby, they would become “fishers of men.” Thus, the call to discipleship is a call to service.
In the more detailed account in Luke, the multitude that was present “pressed upon him and heard the word of God, while he was standing by the lake.” At that point, Jesus entered Simon’s boat and “sat down and taught the multitudes” along the shoreline – (Luke 5:1-11).
Afterward, Jesus commanded Simon to leave the shore and lower his nets. He and his compatriots had toiled all night with little to show for their efforts. But upon obeying Jesus and lowering the nets, “they enclosed a great multitude of fishes,” so much so their nets were at the point of bursting.
When Simon saw this, he prostrated himself at the knees of Jesus and begged him to depart, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Simon, James, and John were amazed and confused, but he told them, “Fear not. From now on, you will catch men.” It was at that point that the four men left all behind and began to follow him.
This first instance of calling disciples became the pattern for his ministry throughout Galilee. The “kingdom of God” was at hand. Already, it was beginning to invade this fallen world. Therefore, now was the time for immediate and decisive action.