In traditional Jewish culture, rabbis hold a place of special respect. They are teachers, life coaches, spiritual sages; like Yoda but without a cool weapon.
Rabbis would usually gather a group of disciples around them. Jewish schooling was arranged in such a way as to dig out the best and the brightest. The academically capable students would be the group from whom the local rabbi would pick his closest disciples. The others would be left by the wayside.
This is an excerpt from the Bible:
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.
When Jesus began his ministry, he began recruiting a team. People wanted to hang out with him – and it wasn’t just to play FIFA. He didn’t advertise, he head hunted the people he wanted. And he wanted men, not boys. And real men followed him. People often think that Jesus’ first followers were easily swayed simpletons who wanted a chance to be one of the cool kids. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jesus largely picked fishermen. The fishing industry in the region was prosperous – these guys weren’t idiots, but they weren’t the academic elite either. They were capable, practical, hardworking businessmen.
The first recruits are Simon (called Peter) and Andrew. Just two ordinary fishermen: Si and Andy. You may wonder why Simon is called Peter. The fact is, Jesus renamed him. Peter, or rather the Greek Petros means ‘little rock’. Like men always have amongst their friends, Jesus gave out nicknames, and he called his friend ‘the rock’. Is it because Peter was a stable, reliable person, or because he was a big dude? We don’t know.
Jesus is not shy about asking these men to step up to a big challenge. Our culture is relentlessly noncommittal. But even now, a big challenge or task can still inspire great dedication. Rather than give a long speech backed by a rousing film soundtrack, Jesus simply says ‘follow me’.
Of course, most people in any era would not drop what they were doing and ask for their P45 upon the request of a controversial loose-cannon preacher. The likelihood is that these men already knew Jesus (they lived near each other) and that he had some sort of reputation as a leader or teacher. But, they dropped the nets and followed, like young men who are compelled by idea of a risky adventure often have.
Next, Jesus recruits two more brothers; Jim and Johnny. Little did anyone know at this point that a carpenter on a beach in an obscure corner of the Roman empire was starting a revolution that would outlast Rome by millennia. The men who followed Jesus did not leave part-time work at McDonalds to follow him. They had steady, prosperous, successful businesses. But something about Jesus’ character, message and purpose compelled them to drop everything. Literally.
The fishermen are challenged to become ‘fishers of people’ – a little pun on their previous vocation. Greek and roman philosophers of the day used it to talk about ‘catching’ others by persuasive ideas. Jesus wanted them to join him in influencing the world.
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of seeking to influence others. Jesus it seems, doesn’t care for this opinion. He wanted courageous men who could handle being in an argument and being unpopular without sobbing into a cardigan every five minutes. His followers would later be flogged, publicly cussed, crucified, beheaded, exiled, and shipwrecked. For this reason, Jesus wisely recruited fishermen.
It is significant that James and John left their father. He may or may not have agreed with their decision. Jesus didn’t ask them to break any family ties, but that may have been a consequence; leaving one’s father was not a thing to be taken lightly. So for now, Zebedee was left alone, on his boat, dealing with a silly name.
With hindsight, what Jesus does with a dozen random working-class men from Israel is utterly remarkable. He began a movement which still affects the world 2000 years later. If you look at the raw materials he had, it’s like taking the university football team to successive Champions League victories. It shouldn’t happen!
These men were captivated by the opportunity to follow Jesus. It gave their lives a purpose. They knew that that purpose came at great cost, but they willingly paid. What’s your purpose?
What, if anything, is more important to you than your career? What makes these things so important?
Who do you ‘follow’ in terms of how you live and think? What compels you to follow them?