“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” – Jesus
Jesus’ words in this sentence have haunted me for the past few days. The sentence is short but profound; one scholar rightly calls it the most “condensed parable.” What did Jesus mean- “I will make you fishers on men”?
Historically we understand that all people in Jewish Palestine depended on fish products for many things. Fishermen were central to the economy, and thus made a pretty good living in the standards of their culture.
The context of this particular “condensed parable” if found in the book of Matthew. Jesus approaches Simon (Peter) and Andrew who are fishing and calls them to “follow” him. He does the same for James and John, the sons of Zebedee who were also fishing. This idea of “following” a teacher meant to literally walk behind him, learn from him- every day.
Jesus calls them to abandon their ordinary occupation and follow him full time. In other words, “leave behind your good jobs”- and for James and John, “leave behind the promise of owning the family business.” What makes this calling even more radical is that such abandonment would have surely brought dishonor upon them from their whole community.
The metaphor follows naturally- “I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus was talking to men who were fishermen by trade. Something they most likely learned from their own earthly fathers. For these four men this call reaches beyond their human relationships and dependence on occupation.
This calling is something all together different. I agree with Leon Morris, who writes “Dietrich puts it well: It is no longer a question of taking fish from the lake, but drawing men up out of the abyss of sin and death.”
This was not only a call to learn, but an active participation in bringing other men into contact with the living God of the universe. Of those men who were called, who would not immediately abandon the vain occupations of this world to follow the eternal God on his redemptive mission?
There was nothing special about these four, but God called them to start the greatest movement that humanity would ever see. This is how God’s grace works.