I think it is remarkable that Jesus called a few fishermen to be His disciples. These fishermen were probably those who flunked out of “Torah School.” These were ones who didn’t show any promise at all in becoming “professional” religious teachers or even followers of someone who was. But on one specific day along the shoreline of the fresh-water lake called in the Bible the Sea of Galilee, life changed dramatically for this group of four Galilean fishermen!
Have you ever fished before? My guess is that most people I know have at least tried. I learned when I was a kid. I used to ride my “spider” bike (remember, the bikes with the goofy handlebars.) over to Lake Lenape with my friends Mark and Tommy. On my cool bike I even had old baseball cards fastened on the back spokes that flapped with every turn of the wheel(Oh, how I wish I still had those cards today!). But with worms that we dug up from my dad’s dirt pile on the edge of the back yard, we spent hours fishing for sunnies. I think we caught more tree limbs and floating logs than fish actually.
Unlike using a pole, line, and hooks like we do today, the fishermen in Jesus’ day caught fish primarily by using nets (although fish hooks have been found at archaeological digs). First, there were casting nets that were weighted. They would be thrown over the side of a boat. After it would sink a little, the net would then be gathered together with ropes with hopes to trap fish in the net as it is gathered. There were also drag nets. These nets were also weighted, but spread out between two boats. This type of fishing required patience with hopes of fish getting caught within the nets as it is slowly pulled. Fishing usually took place at night as well.
Parenthetically, this is why a later story involving Peter is such a remarkable one. The story is told in Luke 5. As the narrative unfolds, Peter and his crew were fishing all night long. They didn’t catch anything. Yet when Jesus arrives the next morning and tells Peter to “cast into deeper water,” Peter must have thought Jesus was crazy. Yet out of honor, respect, and obedience, Peter goes to deeper water and catches so many fish that their nets began to break.
But on this first encounter, the calling of four of the fishermen happened this way:
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-22).
Jesus called His disciples to be fishers of men! This simply meant that their life’s focus now would become kingdom oriented! Following the principles of God’s kingdom (Matthew 5-7), these fisherman now disciples of Jesus would be used of God to “fish” for people. Their life’s occupation was now to attract people to Jesus. No nets, weights, or hooks required. Just truth, grace, and love.
Jesus calls all of us to be fishers of people too! We don’t have to be people with great gifts and talents. Like these Galilean fishermen, we just have to be people willing to hear and accept God’s call.
The following video produced by Sourceflix captures the context and message of Matthew 4 well.