Jesus Chooses His First Disciples
(Matthew 4.18-22; Mark 1.16-20)
1 Jesus was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, teaching the people as they crowded around him to hear God's message. 2Near the shore he saw two boats left there by some fishermen who had gone to wash their nets. 3Jesus got into the boat that belonged to Simon and asked him to row it out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down in the boat to teach the crowd.
4When Jesus had finished speaking, he told Simon, “Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish.”
5 “Master,” Simon answered, “we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” 6 They did this and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. 7Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.
8When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don't come near me! I am a sinner.” 9Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. 10His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.
Jesus told Simon, “Don't be afraid! From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.” 11The men pulled their boats up on the shore. Then they left everything and went with Jesus.
Sometimes Jesus’ recruitment strategies seem counter intuitive. Designed to dwindle the ranks, not swell them. Devised to chase potential donors and followers away, not attract them. There’s the Rich Young Ruler, for instance, whose resources might have been a tremendous boon to Jesus’ ministry had he finessed the conversation just a wee bit. Or the three would-be followers in Luke 9, to whom Jesus issues such stern and bracing challenges – “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own. . . . Let the dead bury dead, while you go and tell about God’s kingdom. . . . Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s kingdom!” – it appears he’s almost sabotaging his own efforts.
And then we have this. The strangeness of it, its counter-intuitiveness, is that Jesus doesn’t recruit Peter and company while they still hate their day job. We meet the fishermen exhausted and cranky. They’ve spent a night of fruitless labor – the word Peter uses for “worked hard” suggests that they have toiled until bone-weary. All the same, the usual chores still need doing – nets that came up empty, draw after draw, must still be washed. You can feel the weight of Peter’s discouragement, the heat of his frustration. The man verily steams.
But no, Jesus insists he try again. And next thing you know, Eureka! The nets fill to bursting, the boats to capsizing. It is payday times a hundred. It is a windfall and a fandango. Peter and the gang must be calculating the cash dividends from such a haul. Every one of them, we are told, is surprised: rendered speechless and immobilized, the Greek suggests. Surprised, indeed.
It’s at this moment that Jesus calls them away. Just as their fortunes turn, just as their job becomes fun and lucrative, just as the promotions and signing bonuses are put on the table, Jesus issues a call to do something else. A call that demands they leave everything.
Let me ask it bluntly: why does Jesus make their day job brilliant before he asks them to leave it? Why does he provide a massive catch of fish, not one of which will be brought to market? Why does he, in short, restore the dignity and fruitfulness of their trade before he asks them to abandon it?
Because then it’s a real choice.
I believe that’s what Jesus does every time. He invites us to follow and serve him, not because there’s nothing else to do, but because there is, and he forces a choice. The choice is always the same: will you just keep doing your own thing, or will you join me in doing mine? Following Jesus always costs something. Indeed, it always costs everything.
Don’t be afraid.
I know that you are asking me to follow you, and at the heart of that is a costly choice: to keep doing my own thing, or to join you in doing yours. Give me courage to choose your thing.
In Christ’s name I pray. Amen