THE CALL OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES
Jesus had a succession plan for his short-term ministry in this world. His initial step for that was the selection of four fishermen from the Sea of Galilee. That was the fulfillment of the prophesy of Jeremiah that the Lord will send many fishermen to catch the scattered Israel from all the nations (Jer. 16:16a). Peter, Andrew, James and John who were coworkers in fishing and familiar with Jesus, followed Jesus when he called them, giving up their profession, family, and comfort of life they had for the Kingdom of God until the end of their lives. As Christians, we are the present disciples of Jesus who need to give priority to the Kingdom of God than the worldly achievements.
(Mark 1:16) As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. (17) Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (18) Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. (19) He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. (20) Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
(Mark 1:16) As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.
As he passed by
Jesus went for a walk at the Sea of Galilee looking for his potential successors to continue his mission in the world after three years of his intense training. Why was he searching there instead of Jerusalem where the chief priests, the Pharisees, and Scribes were present? Why he did not select anyone from the Sanhedrin? He wanted people who were hard workers, open minded, willing to risk their lives, and not sophisticated with their own ideologies or with misinterpretations of the Holy Scripture. So his goal was to select people who had listened to him earlier and who were excited with his genuine interpretation of the Holy Scripture and attracted by his compassionate care for the helpless people.
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, as it has been traditionally known, is not a real sea but a lake. It is also known as “Sea of Kinneret” (Numb. 34:11, Deut. 3:17, Joshua 11:2), the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), “Lake of Tiberius” (John 6:1). This pear-shaped lake is only 13 miles long from north to south and eight miles at the widest part from east to west. The circumference of the lake is only 33 miles and its maximum depth is 141 feet. It is the lowest fresh water lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The main source of water to the lake is from Jordan River and supplemented by springs from the streams and wadis of the hills of Galilee. The water level and the size of the lake has gone down as centuries went by.
The name Galilee derived from the Hebrew word “galil” that means circle. The full name was the Galilee of the Gentiles. Galilee was, in fact circled by Gentiles. Phoenicians on the west, Syrians on the north and east, and Samaritans on the south were their neighbors. Since Galilee was encircled by the Gentiles, the Jews there were more open to new ideas compared to other parts of Palestine.
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew
Simon whom Jesus later renamed as Peter and his brother Andrew were the first specially called disciples of Jesus who were later chosen among the 12 apostles. Their father was Jonah and mother was Joanna. Both Simon and Andrew were fishermen working together as a family profession along with their father and other partners.
he saw Simon
Though not educated, Simon Peter had natural leadership qualities, and Jesus made use of it for his mission. Peter was not afraid of expressing his opinion by raising questions to Jesus. He took initiative as a spokesman for all the apostles. Jesus had used Peter’s house during his ministry in Capernaum. He was the one to openly express Jesus as the Son of the living God. When Simon professed his faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi saying “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus changed his name Simon meaning “God has heard,” to Peter (Rock). According to the Biblical concept, only a person who has authority could change the name of another person. The change of name was also indicative of a change in the identity or mission of the person. Among the apostles, only Peter had that privilege of Jesus changing the name. Jesus gave authority to Peter saying, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). In spite of the warnings Peter had received from Jesus, he denied Jesus three times during the trial of Jesus. However, he had recovered from it through his genuine repentance. He was the head of the college of apostles and thus the first pope. Peter was crucified upside down upon his request that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his master. His name and activities are recorded in the New Testament more than any other apostle.
and his brother Andrew
Andrew was son of Jonas, brother of Simon Peter and a disciple of John the Baptist. He was one among the two who heard John the Baptist introducing Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35-37). He was the first to follow Jesus and was enthusiastic to introduce Jesus to his brother Simon Peter (John 1:40-42). Unlike his brother Simon, Andrew was not outspoken. However, he was passionate in preaching the gospel. He preached in Asia Minor (Turkey), Scythia, east of Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. He faced martyrdom of crucifixion with boldness and courage. According to tradition, he was crucified in the town of Patra in Greece in 61 AD by Governor Aepeas. When he was sentenced to be crucified, Andrew begged that his cross be different from his master’s because of his unworthiness to use the same type of cross. So, his was an X-shaped cross which is now known as St. Andrew’s cross. While on the cross for two days, he preached from there. Two-crossed fish is also used as a symbol of Andrew because he was a fisherman before becoming an apostle of Jesus and was crucified on an X shaped cross.
casting their nets into the sea
There were mainly two types of fishing nets used in the Sea of Galilee: drag-net and casting-net. Drag-net was a large one cast from the back of the boat that while moves forward, the four corners of the net were drawn together to catch the fish that get inside the bag-like shape of the net. Simon and Andrew were using the casting-net that was skillfully cast by hand into the water to form an umbrella-like shape to catch the fish. Jesus called Simon and Andrew while they were working. Jesus wanted people who were humble and hard working.
they were fishermen.
There were many who chose fishing as their profession in the Sea of Galilee. According to Josephus, the famous historian and governor of Galilee, there were around 330 fishing boats in the lake during that time. Fish was a main food for people in Palestine because they seldom ate meat. Besides selling fresh fish, salted fish was shipped for sale to faraway places like Judea and Rome.
The call of fishers of men for evangelization among the nations, to bring all the scattered children of Israel, was a fulfillment of the prophesy of Jeremiah. “Look! – oracle of the LORD – I will send many fishermen to catch them.” (Jer. 16:16a).
(17) Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
There were different stages of call to discipleship of Jesus for at least some of the apostles. John the Evangelist, who gives a detailed account of the first year public ministry of Jesus, gives details of the early call of some of the disciples of Jesus. Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist followed Jesus when he heard John introducing Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:35-37). Peter came to know Jesus through Andrew his brother and followed Jesus (John 1:40-42). The next day, Jesus called Philip from Bethsaida and Nathaniel as his disciples (John 1:43-51). These might have attended the wedding at Cana in Galilee with Jesus. However, when Jesus went to Judea for his ministry, they might have gone back to their profession of fishing in the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus had objection from the Jewish leaders in Judea, Jesus returned to Galilee. That was the time, probably the beginning of the second year of his public ministry, that Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave everything they had, their profession, friends, family, and home, to accompany him fulltime. So for them, the call from Jesus was something they might have expected and they might have been looking forward for such an invitation from Jesus.
Jesus was different from the rabbis of the time. They were never seeking disciples or selecting any from their listeners. Instead, the one who wanted to become the disciple of a rabbi would select one of his choice and sought his discipleship. Jesus had a different approach. He selected whoever he wanted and rejected some who requested to select them as his disciples (Mark 5:18-19).
(18) Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
So, when the opportune time came, Simon and Andrew realized that they will be better following Jesus than keeping up their worldly possessions and profession they had. They realized the greatest treasure in their life was following Jesus (Matthew 13:46). Later, Peter, Andrew, James and John were selected as apostles when Jesus finalized the 12 as the pillars of his church (Mark 3:13-19).They even became martyrs for Jesus. However, they gained eternal life and high position in heaven.
(19) He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets.
James, the son of Zebedee
James was known as James, son of Zebedee, James the Elder or St. James the Great to distinguish him from another apostle with the same name. His name always appears in the Bible along with his brother John. His ministry was mainly in Jerusalem and Judea. James was the first apostle martyred and only his martyrdom is recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:1-3). He was beheaded at the order of King Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D. After his martyrdom, his body was transported to Spain and buried at Santiago de Compostela. That place became a great pilgrim center.
James also preached in Spain. While he was in Spain, at first he found no positive outcome from his preaching. Mary, the Mother of Jesus bilocated and appeared to him in 40 AD on a pillar on the bank of River Ebro at Zaragoza and encouraged him stating that his mission would have great outcome. Blessed Mother asked him to build a church there in her name. She gave a pillar of jasper to mark the spot where she had appeared to him.
his brother John.
John was known as the Beloved Disciple because of his close relationship with Jesus. Jesus selected him to be the caretaker of his mother Mary, while Jesus was on the cross. John wrote the fourth gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation. His ministry was in Asia Minor and he took good care of Mother Mary in Ephesus. While preaching in Ephesus, John was taken to Rome for trial. He was sentenced to death in boiled oil. He was miraculously saved and so the emperor nullified his death sentence. He was expelled to the island of Patmos under Domitian, where he had a vision and wrote the book of Revelation. After the death of Domitian, John was freed to Ephesus where he served the churches in Asia Minor until his death around 100 A.D. when he was 88 years old. He was the only apostle who died of natural causes.
mending their nets.
Mending the nets indicates an interval in between fishing. James and John were getting ready for the next trip into the lake for fishing. So, Jesus met them when they were also working like Simon and Andrew.
(20) Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
they left their father Zebedee
This reminds us of the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-4) and Elisha (1King 19:19-21) who gave up their family and possessions when God called them. Like their partners Simon and Andrew, they also might have known Jesus previously and were excited when Jesus called them to follow Jesus fulltime.
the hired men
The presence of hired men indicates that Zebedee and his sons owned the business and they were well to do businessmen who owned the boat also. It is believed that they were sending fish to Jerusalem and elsewhere for sales. They were moderately rich. However, they gave up their family, riches, and income generating business to follow Jesus fulltime.
Out of the four early disciples, Peter, James, and John were the intimate group of Jesus. They were with Jesus on special occasions when the other nine were not allowed to accompany Jesus: raising to life the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37), the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and to be close to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).