In Galilee, Jesus summoned four fishermen to leave their livelihoods and to become his disciples – Mark 1:16-20.
The kind of discipleship characteristic of Jesus differed sharply from the practices of the rabbis. His followers were called to leave everything and to dedicate their whole lives to his mission. Moreover, his disciples were called to follow him. In contrast, the Jewish student educated by the rabbis became a disciple of the Torah, not of an individual teacher.
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 along 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: Come after 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 the two pairs of fishermen with the vivid term “straightway,” that is, “immediately,” which is a favorite word used by Mark in his gospel account.
“Passing along the sea of Galilee.” The clause echoes the prophecy from Isaiah about the messianic light appearing in Galilee – “Along the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” While implicit in Mark, this passage is cited and applied by Matthew to Christ’s arrival in the area to proclaim the good news of the kingdom – (Matthew 4:15).
In the Greek text, the verb rendered “come after me” is in the imperative, the mood of command, and in the present tense, signifying continuous action. In short, he commanded the pair to “be coming after me,” not just once, but from then on, and wherever he led.
Both pairs of brothers responded “immediately” by leaving their occupations and family assets. This suggests they departed with little to no 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 for others.
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” that were gathered 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, and 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 that 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 to “fear not. From now on, you will catch men.” It was at this point that the four men left all behind and began to follow him.
This first instance of calling disciples to leave all and follow him 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.