Do you think things might have been a bit different if Jesus hadn’t called fishermen as the first disciples?
The gospel of John doesn’t mention their profession, but the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all record a similar story of Jesus calling the first disciples. As Jesus begins his ministry, he walks by the Sea of Galilee. “He saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt. 4:18-20). Matthew doesn’t even mention how Jesus called any of the other twelve except one: Matthew, a tax collector.
So why fishermen? Imagine if Matthew reversed it. Maybe Jesus was walking in the marketplace one day and he met a couple of tax collectors. Follow me, Jesus says, and I’ll make you collect people. Or, at least a percentage of them based on their relative incomes.
Maybe that one doesn’t work as well.
What if they’d been shepherds? That’s a familiar image in scripture, generally, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Follow me, and I will make you herd people. That’s a bit better, I suppose, and there’s lots of sheep stuff in the bible, but it still doesn’t have that same “oomph” as fishermen.
Do you think the story would have changed any if they had been shepherds? Or carpenters? Maybe Jesus learned Joseph’s trade. It would have made sense for him to go to people whose work he was familiar with. He’d know them, he’d be one of them. He’d fit right in.
What if they’d be farmers? Or shopkeepers or any other occupation?
Not everyone likes fish. Not everyone likes to fish. And don’t even start me on the difference between recreational fishing and fishing as a job. I think I wrote about that once before, anyway. I imagine first-century-middle-eastern-fisherman was as tough as job as any.
And I wonder if that’s what we could learn here. Jesus didn’t call them from one tough job with an uncertain future to another. It’s not about an occupation, it can’t be, because this isn’t a story just for ministers. It’s for everyone.
This is a story about living into the call that we all have as children of God. The life Jesus called them to was precisely that: life. John’s gospel touches on this, too, when Jesus “names” Simon. Jesus knows who Simon really is, in his heart of hearts, and calls him to live into being Peter.
I think Jesus already knew what was in the heart of these fishermen. The same thing that’s in all our hearts: love and a desire for relationship built on that love. He called these to come and learn how to live it fully in their lives so that others would learn, too.
Paul will later write that we all have different gifts and skills, but are still part of one “body” in Jesus. In fact, he’ll frequently be reminding the early churches that everyone’s gift, skill and occupation is valuable and needed but, as the hymn says, “Christ is our unity.”
Jesus didn’t call the fisherman to different employment. He called them to live more fully the love and grace already within them. Jesus calls us all to that life, whatever our occupation, employment or skill set. Jesus doesn’t ask us to give up our daily lives, but to live them more fully.