Alright, we’re back in Mark. John the Baptist has come and prepared the way. Jesus has been revealed to Israel in his baptism and has committed to his mission. And Jesus has successfully overcome the testing of Satan.
Mark tells us in 1:14-15 that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This tells us that Jesus is going around Galilee preaching this.
And now today we begin to see him in action in specific stories, here ministering to two sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Let’s look at these two parallel calling stories of these four fishermen.
And we begin with some background
“16Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee . . .”
The sea of Galilee is really an inland fresh lake. It’s 12.5 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point. Jesus is around or even on the Sea of Galilee for most of his ministry in Galilee. This is the central setting all the way through chapter 8 of Mark.
Fish was the staple meat item in the ancient Greco-Roman world. And there was a booming fishing industry at this time in Galilee – with fish even being exported to Syria and Egypt. As we will see, James and John’s father Zebedee had a boat and hired hands to work. And Luke 5:10 tells us that Simon and Andrew and James and John were business partners. So, they were not dirt poor laborers, as they are sometimes portrayed – but more like middle class, business-people.
The calling of Simon and Andrew
16. . . Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Simon, or as he’s nicknamed by Jesus, Peter (3:16) and Andrew are originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) but now live and work in Capernaum. (It’s not clear whether they were on the shore or in a boat).
Jesus calls them to “follow me.” Literally he says, “come after me.” He’s inviting them to become his disciples and full time apprentices (France). They are being called to join him in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.
He specifically says, “I will make you become fishers of people.” The idea seems to be that just as they cast their nets and gather together fish, so they will come to gather together people for the kingdom of God. (Fishing references in the OT are all negative – Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17; Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4-5). (See Jesus’ positive image of net fishing as gathering in people for the kingdom in Matthew 13:47-50) (The negative view of the Sea and the deep may be in the background here. It represents chaos, evil and death. The “fish” are delivered from this.)
And Jesus will train them to do this, “I will make you become” this. This is why they need to follow him and learn from him. And we see them doing just this, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the book of Acts.
There’s no need to think that this is the first time they met Jesus. As Mark indicates, Jesus has been preaching the good news in Galilee (1:14-15). And the Gospel of John tells us that Andrew and Peter knew Jesus before this, with Andrew, at least, being a disciple of John the Baptist. (The way Luke tells the story in 5:1-11, Jesus is first in Simon’s house and there is also a miracle involved on the boat before they leave everything).
So their response, “immediately they left their nets and followed him” wasn’t done on a whim. They knew who Jesus was and had considered his message. (Most commentators go on about how Jesus’ authoritative presence and call is the explanation for them immediately leaving their nets to follow him. But, of course, many didn’t listen to Jesus, including the rich young ruler – Mark 10:17-22. His authority is rather displayed by his call to “follow me.” More below.)
The calling of James and John
19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
There are several people named James connected to Jesus. This is not James the son of Alphaeus, one of the 12 (3:18). And it’s not James the brother of Jesus, who later led the Jerusalem church. James the son of Zebedee is the one who was killed by Herod Agrippa as described in Acts 12:1-2. So this was a fateful decision for him. He died for his choice here to follow Jesus.
As with Peter and Andrew, Jesus engages them in the midst of their work of fishing. Here, it says, “he called them.” If Peter and Andrew’s calling emphasized leaving career behind, here the emphasis includes not just the family business but also leaving family behind. It says, “they left their father Zebedee.”
These four disciples remained important for the Christian movement. They are the first four names on all the lists of the 12 apostles in the New Testament (See also Mark 13:3). And the three – Peter, James and John became the inner core of his disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33), with Peter being the leader.
Now, let’s look at some –
Key themes and challenges
– from this passage.
First, there’s a real emphasis in this first part of Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ authority or power. As we will see in the next few chapters – Jesus has authority over demons, to forgive sins, to heal, to perform miracles, to rule on proper Sabbath observance and so on.
This shows up in our story in that Jesus operates differently than Jewish rabbis did. They waited for students to seek them out. But here Jesus calls those he desires. And he does so in a distinctive way. He doesn’t say, ‘come follow God,’ or ‘follow the Law.’ He says “follow me.” He is the focus. (There are some similarities with Elijah’s prophetic call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21).
Well, Jesus is our authority. It’s not Moses, but Jesus. As he says in Matthew 23:10 – “You have one instructor, the anointed one” or “Christ.” And it’s Jesus who gives us the highest revelation of God’s will and purpose for our lives – not just as a fellow human being, but as God incarnate. Jesus is our authority and we are to follow him as well.
A second theme is just this, following Jesus. As I said, Jesus calls these four fisherman to be his full time apprentices. This meant that they had to leave their occupations behind and their family, so that they could travel with him. They literally followed Jesus around Galilee and beyond, learning from him.
As Peter later reflected in Mark 10:28, speaking to Jesus, he said “we have left everything and followed you.” Now this didn’t mean they sold everything they had, like Jesus asked the rich young ruler. Peter and Andrew still had their boat and fishing gear as we see in John 21:3. And likely the boat Jesus uses at various times during his ministry was theirs (or James and John’s). And they kept their house; it doubled as a house church. And they still saw their family. As we will see soon, Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum becomes their home base.
But it was a severe disruption and change in their lives. In that sense they are models for those called to lead and to proclaim the good news of Jesus today. These first leaders in Jesus’ newly forming community had a change of vocation and a change in their family life.
Now all Christians are called to follow Jesus in a more general way, as Jesus says in Mark 8:34 – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Whether you are a leader or not, following Jesus will change everything about your life. Just think for a moment about what it means to deny yourself and to take up your cross. And in this sense these four followers of Jesus are models for all Christians.
A third theme is Jesus’ new community. The ‘authorities that be’ have already rejected John the Baptist, who was to turn their hearts to God. And soon they will reject Jesus as well.
And so right away Jesus begins to build an alternative people of God; a remnant. And this means selecting and training leaders. A few verses from ours today (1:29-34) he also plants his first house church. These are the ones who will support him and these leaders as they minister.
But what I want to highlight is the priority Jesus places on the church; his community. It’s right at the top. And so I ask you, ‘Do you prioritize the church, God’s new people, God’s new nation on this earth?’ It’s absolutely central to God’s plan for the kingdom. We are the people God has chosen to use to transform the world and no other. Is it central to you?
And then one final theme, people fishing. These four fisherman were called to “become fishers of people” as leaders among his people. But all of us are to be involved in this in whatever way we can; it’s the call of the whole church, not just its leaders.
And so I ask, ‘How are you doing gathering people in for the kingdom?’ With the gifts that God has given you and with the circumstances of life that God has put you in, how’s it going?
This story shows us that Jesus didn’t come to do everything for us. He came to do what only he could do, but what we can do he came to empower us to do. We are a part of God’s kingdom plan and we can’t be passive; we can’t sit on the sidelines. We must also, like these disciples join in and follow Jesus and take up the work.