Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The evening conversation around the dinner table that night began the same as every night. It had been a long day—12 hours on the lake in the hot sun—arms aching and the stench of raw fish hanging in the air. Salome slapped the top of John’s hand as it reached into the hot skillet to sample the sizzling sardine steaks. “Stop that, Jonathon! How can a son be so incorrigible?” she scowled—releasing a smirk across her mouth. “Mother—it’s been a long day. I’m tired and hungry—please throw me a scrap from your delicious cuisine!” “Ack, Ack! Wash your hands young man. And then set the table.”
Salome and Phoebe laughed together. Nothing was so sweet as the combined collaboration of a mother and her daughter-in-law. In fact, no man could match the collective power of that kind of feminine energy. Salome and Phoebe continued the preparation of the evening meal as James began to set the table. “Father,” little Joel asked. “Yes, Son?” answered James as he pulled tin plates from the cupboard.” “Why do we eat fish all the time?”
Joel was turning 5 next week. Although his mother didn’t allow him to follow his father to work on the lake—he often listened to the stories of the fishermen, told by his uncle John, with awe and wonder. “Fishing is an honorable profession,” James said, lifting Joel upon his lap as he sat down at the crude wooden table. “My father was a fisherman, as well as my grandfather. And I suspect you will be one someday—just like me and your Uncle John and the rest of our family. And if that is so, then eating the fish that you catch yourself is an honor too. You see, we fishermen provide good things to eat for many, many people—especially to people that can’t always work for themselves. You’ll learn more about it when you start school at the synagogue next year. Now, go wash your hands—and find out where your Uncle John is.”
Joel jumped off James’s lap and scampered outside. Phoebe slipped her arms around James’s neck and kissed him on the head. “You are a good father, my husband—now time for you to wash those dirty fishermen’s hands.” “Yes, dear” and James followed his son outside.
“He looks tired,” Salome reflected. “Do you think something is wrong?” “I don’t know,” Phoebe answered. “He has been quiet today. Perhaps something is going on at the docks.”
“What is this about the docks?” Startled by the booming voice Phoebe and Salome screamed as Zebedee entered the kitchen and slammed the door behind him. “Zebedee!” exclaimed Salome. “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for your return and dinner is just coming to the table.”
“Speaking of the docks—just some trouble to contend with. I’ve been meeting with some of the other business owners after pulling in the nets for the night.” “What is the matter?” Salome questioned her husband. “Oh, nothing too alarming. It seems that some of the fleet have unexpectedly closed their fishing business. I’m not sure who it is yet, but we are looking into it. An announcement is coming tomorrow concerning reallocation of fishing quotas.” Salome grabbed her husband by the waist. “Why would anyone do such a thing? With the Romans exorcising more taxes on us, and businesses losing so many servants to military enlistment, you would imagine that anyone having a good paying job would stay with it.” “Not to worry, my wife. We will just have to increase our own efforts to make up the quotas. More fish for us to catch means more denari in our pockets. Our boys will be up to the challenge. Speaking of our boys, where is my little grandson?”
“Grandpapa!” shouted Joel as he ran into the kitchen followed by James and John. “Well! Here are my strapping sons to share my table.” “And me too!” Joel yelled. “And don’t forget your beautiful and kind daughter-in-law!” Phoebe laughed, pecking Zebedee on the cheek. “Now enough child’s play!” Salome exclaimed. “Everyone, sit down, sit down. Husband—bring us the blessing!”
After a second of scrambling for chairs, all were seated around the weathered wooden table. Zebedee grabbed the hands of his wife and grandson and bowed his head. “Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Your gifts of plenty bring seasons of thankfulness. And may our thankfulness inspire new gifts from you. Amen.”
“Amen!” the family echoed—and dinner began as Salome passed the platter of freshly fried fish around the table. “Have you noticed a decrease in musht over the last few hauls recently?” James asked his father. “I heard it was from the unusual winds coming from the Galilee hills,” John interrupted. “They say the storms will be the worst ever this spring. Fish don’t like storms.”
“I think it’s the young fishermen that don’t like storms,” laughed James. “I’m not afraid” John quipped back. “How could anyone be afraid of a little wind and rain?” “Well, I don’t think it’s the wind or the storms,” James reflected. “It’s the Romans.” “James!” Phoebe whispered in a quiet shout. “You mustn’t speak so. There are spies everywhere. You know what happens to dissenters now that Caiphas and Pilate are bedfellows.” “I’m not afraid of the Romans! Or the pompous Pharisees,” John blurted. “How long will we let these foreign mongrels and their puppet priests dictate what we discuss or how we live?”
“Enough!” Zebedee exploded. “Not in my house. We will eat tonight without speaking of such things.” The room became silent with the exception of clinking spoons and knives on tin plates. Quietly a tiny voice pierced the silence. “What’s a mongrel?” asked Joel. John turned to his nephew and smiled. “A mongrel is just a fancy name for a dog, Joel.” “I like dogs!” Joel replied. “Dogs get to do anything they want. Sleep outside. Play in the street. Take baths in the lake. And I bet they don’t have to eat fish every night!”
Laughter exploded around the table. “Yes, my grandson.” Zebedee smiled. “The life of a dog can be very—care free!” Seconds passed without conversation. The night was closing in and a new day was just hours away. But James knew he needed to say something. The anxiety gripped his stomach as he struggled to form his words, when out of the blue John spoke up.
“Andrew and Simon left their nets today.” James looked at his brother and sighed. The easy part was over, but now came the tough conversation he and his brother discussed having with their father. “What do you mean they left their nets today?” Zebedee raised his eyebrow. “Father, they’ve left the business,” James answered. Salome gasped, “Andrew and Simon? But why? Where did they go? What will they do? What about their families? Does their father, Jonas know? Did you talk to them?”
“Woman, let them speak!” Zebedee shouted. “Tell me son. What happened?” “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” James continued. “We were mending our nets after pulling in the last haul for the day and we saw Jesus approach them from the shore. “Jesus? You mean my sister, Mary’s son? Your cousin Jesus? He’s here from Nazareth?” Salome asked. “Yes, he’s here!” John replied. “We heard Jesus was with John the Baptist and his disciples in the wilderness. But today he was walking along the beach and came up to Andrew and Simon and…” ”What John? What happened?” Salome cried. “Jesus told Andrew and Simon to follow him. He said that he would make them fishers of people. He told them to leave their nets and help him build God’s kingdom.”
“But how?” Salome asked in shock. “How will they live? What about their families? They can’t just leave the family business? What is Jesus going to do with them?” “Now, Salome!” Zebedee interrupted. “You can’t expect these boys to know everything that happened. I’m sure there is a logical explanation for the whole thing! Maybe Jesus just wanted a job. I’m sure they could use a few more hired hands on their boat, right sons?” he turned towards James and John. A long pause drifted across the room as Zebedee looked into his son’s eyes—and then down at the table. “He asked you too—didn’t he?” Zebedee looked up at James and John. “Yes, Father” James answered. “Jesus asked us to follow him too. And we are. We leave tomorrow for Capernaum.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow—for Capernaum? Did you know this Phoebe?” “Yes, Salome. I did know. We’ve discussed it, and Joel and I are going with James.” “I’m going to!” John added. “But how? How can you leave your father? How can you follow this man? How will you live? What will you do?” Salome could take no more as she jumped from the table and fled into the bedroom. The table fell silent. After a moment Zebedee stood up from the table and walked behind his boys, laying his hands on each of their shoulder. “You are good men,” he began. “And times are very different now than when I was your age. Yahweh’s people have been enslaved by evil influences. Our religious and government leaders value power over peace and use our sacred texts as weapons against us. I didn’t bring you into this world to be oppressed by it. And I hope that this man, your cousin Jesus can liberate us from it.”
James and John stood up from the table and embraced Zebedee. “We love you, Father” they said through tears. “You’ve taught us well—to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And even though we are no longer fishermen, we will continue to cast our nets for God’s kingdom.”
Let us pray. Lord, we sit here today, in this community of teachers and bankers, caretakers of children and business executives, students and administrators, musicians and ministers, teachers and preachers—contemplating a gospel text that challenges us in our day jobs. Just like fishing was to the disciples—we work in our chosen professions and hear your call to become more. We hear your call to become disciples of Christ—to dive into mission and ministry to the world. Give us the fast reflexes of those first four disciples—Simon, Andrew, James and John. There’s a part of us that hesitates, afraid to get out of our boats; fearful of setting aside our roles and personas. We know that your call may come at any time to leave behind our comfort zones and respond to needs we never expected.
But in that moment, give us the courage to make the immediate decision to follow Jesus—and become who you challenge us to be, setting aside the temptation to accumulate possessions, or accomplishments, or degrees, or labels that attempt to bring us a sense of worth or value. Instead, reveal to us the opportunities in our own lives that will engage us in a deeper journey with you. For we know that it isn’t what we do, that makes us your blessed children, but who you created us to be in each moment of our life. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”