Just imagine the scene. It’s an ordinary day at work when a man stops and watches you. You’ve seen this man and heard him speak before but what does he want with you. Before you can ask, he calls out “Come and follow me.” This is pretty much what happened to the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John. As they were fishing, Jesus called them to follow him. Jesus told these fishermen that they could become fishers of men. Amazingly they dropped their nets, walked out on their livelihood and followed. Why would they do this? What did they expect would happen? The Bible doesn’t go into details about what fishing for people really meant but I think we can see 3 things.
1. Following Jesus means Catching his Vision.
The disciples knew a lot about fishing. It was their trade and, most probably given the culture, part of the family business. They would have known the best times to fish and the best places to fish. They would have known how to spot where the fish were and to read the weather patterns. As professional fishermen they knew fish and how to catch them. Fish were valuable. It was how they earned money, and literally, put dinner on the table.
When Jesus calls them to fish for people he is asking them to take their eyes off what is important to them and begin to see what is important to him. People are clearly at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. The gospel writers go to lengths to show Jesus’ interest in people through miracles, showing mercy, forgiveness and ultimately his substitutionary death on the cross. In following Jesus the disciples caught this vision of people and ultimately gave their lives for it too.
2. Following Jesus means Doing what he Does.
Jesus did not approach the fishermen and ask them to watch what he did. Instead he calls them to follow him. This is similar to what ancient rabbi’s did. To the brightest and most highly regarded pupil a rabbi would offer the chance to follow, learn from and copy what he did. It wasn’t merely the formation of a new rabbinic ministry but in a very real way the continuation of a rabbi’s ministry after he died. Jesus takes this model and redefines it. The disciples didn’t suddenly decide to follow Jesus, but he who sought them out. This means that following Jesus starts with him. It is not our initiative but his. And further, he does not look for the best and brightest but chooses the everyday worker and offers them the opportunity to be his follower. The work of the disciple is to follow, learn, copy and continue. The fishermen begin to know Jesus relationally as they follow him. As they learn and copy what he does, the vision and mission of Jesus begins to grow within them. As they continue in Jesus’ mission they begin to show him to others.
3. Following Jesus is Communal.
In the world that we live in today we have an inbuilt tendency to think in terms of the individual. On this occasion Jesus calls four people to follow, but we know there were another eight in close relationship with him and crowds that would also follow him from place to place. We should never forget this aspect of following Jesus. Instead it should shape who we are as his followers. This means that we should encourage, care, celebrate, and at times offend each other as we live out our shared faith.
Following Jesus is the foundational cornerstone the Christian faith. It is a privilege, but it also carries responsibility. Following Jesus means being shaped by him. If this does not happen, are we really following him?