For the past few months I have been studying and writing through the Book of Matthew with a specific focus on discipleship. I recently examined the moment Jesus called his first disciples. He is walking along the Sea of Galilee and he sees two fishermen, Simon and Andrew.
Watching them work, I think Jesus recognized several qualities in them well suited for the life he would prepare them for. So with a reference to their role, he calls them “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
In Jesus’ “fishers of men” phrase, he takes the role they have spent their lives playing out and adaptively applies it to function redemptively for his kingdom purposes.
What about the role of a fisherman might be formative for the life of a disciple?
- First century fishermen had to be out on long fishing trips, roughing it out in dangerous sea conditions, with the sunshine burning their face, salty air and water drying their skin, the stinky messiness of fish guts and sweat. They possessed a tenacity the life of discipleship would also require.
- Fishermen were well acquainted with repetitive work patterns: throw the net in, wait, pull the net out, sift through the catch, throw some back, clean the ones they kept, then repeat. They knew how to do a job, day in and day out. That’s how commitment is formed.
- Fishermen understood the fish wouldn’t come to them; just like Jesus actively approached them, they knew the responsibility of making the first move was on them.
- Fishermen understood patience. Much of their job depended on waiting for the fish schools to amass in their nets, or waiting for the right fishing hour or season. The life of discipleship often requires even more patience.
- Fishermen dealt with disappointment and frustration. Though their nets went empty at times, they knew that was part of the job. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down. That’s why discipleship is not about numbers, but essence.
- Fishermen were responsible for what was theirs. In v21, they were mending their nets, repairing their equipment, respecting the work by caring for their stuff. A part of following Jesus with excellence means respecting what we have.
- Fishermen knew the importance of teamwork. The nets were big, the fish were heavy, and it often required a few boats to complete the work. It couldn’t be done alone. These fishermen were brothers and partners in the trade. Following Jesus doesn’t bring us into a private relationship with him, but a communal one that is blessed by the Body.
- Fishermen understood the reality of their role. Knowing they would never be rich or famous, they were content with their context and lived and worked responsibly.
I’m not implying these characteristics qualified them to follow Jesus, but only that Jesus saw value where many religious experts in his time (and ours) did not; value he would endow with redemptive reality, forming them to function redemptively.
I believe how Jesus frames his call for them to follow reveals or suggests how our roles in life can serve redemptive functions.
It makes me think back to many of the jobs I have held. I’ve been a fast food worker, a dish washer, a store cashier; I’ve cleaned out city sewers, was a cemetery groundskeeper, did a little grave digging. One summer I supervised a team of high school students as we cleaned six different camp bathhouses every day. I’ve also been a teacher in South Korea. When I think back on each of those roles I’ve played, I can recall numerous moments and conversations that became centered on Jesus and the redemptive life he brings.
Others come to mind as well. I know athletic coaches who are ministers in their own way. I once met a restaurant owner who helped advise his pastor on how to make his congregation more welcoming and service-oriented. Another friend turned a coffee shop he managed into something of a community haven.
Many times I think we take a look around at where we are in life or at the roles we play and doubt we really have anything to offer God or humanity. Those doubts often come with the presumption that our roles must be exciting or resourceful in order to make any difference. But I think of Paul’s comment to the Corinthians: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and…by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD’.”
Put another way, God is bringing the world into his redemptive reality by working out his salvation in the ordinary, everyday details. I believe the way Jesus phrased his call to the fishermen frames an intention for ordinary roles to serve in redemptive functions. Christ abides in the common so that what is common may reveal Christ. That means as a follower of Jesus, you have the ability to reveal and make much of Jesus through the role you play every day right where you are at. Christ in you is what you have to offer.
Parting question: how could the redeeming character of Jesus be revealed in the roles you play every day?