Just some ordinary fishermen
Mark 1; Matthew 4
Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, when he saw two fishermen - Simon and Simon's brother Andrew - casting their net. He said to them: "Come with me and I will have you fishing for men!" Right away they stopped what they were doing and went after him. A little further on he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in a boat, mending nets. He called them also and they followed him at once, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands. (Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 4:18-22)
It's a fine clear morning down by the lakeside. Sun sparkles on the water. A few noisy birds circle overhead. Out from the beach two men are standing in water up to their waist, heaving at a net strung out between them. Further along, there's a boat pulled up on the sand. Two younger men are working inside it, mending a big rip where their net caught on a submerged treetrunk the night before.
Nobody pays much attention as someone else comes down onto the shoreline and makes his way towards them. When he comes up level with the first pair, he stands watching as they drag the net back out of the water onto the sand. There's no sign of fish; just bits of green weed caught in the mesh. He goes up to them and says quietly, "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men." Then he goes further on, and reaches the next couple. "James, John, follow me." They look at each other for a moment; they step out of the boat . . . and click goes the camera, recording for all time a famous picture: the calling of the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
There's just one problem with a picture like that. Like any old, fading photo, it gradually loses touch with reality. As the months, the years, the generations pass by, the people in the snapshot turn into something they never were. No longer plain Simon and Andrew, James and John - fishermen earning just enough with net and line and boat - they become Disciples with a capital D; ghostly Fishers of Men, making miraculous catches and thousands of converts. master apostles, to be wondered at by modern, incompetent Christians.
Simon and Andrew, James and John; fishermen extraordinary. But how extraordinary, I wonder.
Certainly, if they were anything like the fishermen in my family, you'd hardly think them worth the calling.
It's not that we don't like fishing, or don't work hard at it. It's just that we never seem to catch anything worth the huge effort that goes into the whole business. If you only knew the hours we've trudged along river banks, and scrambled over rocks, to discover water devoid of all fishy life. If only you could see our cunning at baiting hooks, our patience in casting out, only to finish up heaving at trapped lines, tugging till the taut cord snaps and snakes back through the water, leaving yet another set of sinkers and hooks on the bottom of the sea.
Meet the world's worst fishermen.
Watch, as that huge trout, eluding my father's desperate casts, swims diabolically straight at him, gliding between his very gumboots.
Imagine the look of total disgust on my brother's face (already puckered and drawn by too much time underwater in a wetsuit) as he climbs out and stands there exhausted - only to discover that his bag of precious shellfish (and his knife) have somehow dropped from his belt and been lost in the cold grey water.
And here I go, on a precious visit to a West Coast beach, equipped with a brand new rod and reel, and large hopes. Yes, that's me, on the very first cast, hurling the reel, as well as all the line, far out into the Tasman Sea, never to be recovered again.
Believe me, fish have nothing to be worried about when we're the fishermen.
Well, I can't imagine that the men Jesus called were quite as gormless as that. But I bet he knew he wasn't dealing with supermen - disciples to whom fishing for others would come easy.
They'd fumble their chances, just like they'd fumbled with hooks and bait on a frosty morning. They'd walk away from trouble, just as sometimes they'd angrily thrown overboard a tangled rope, instead of patiently picking it apart. They'd say the wrong words, get down in the dumps, be in the wrong place when the time was right, just as they'd done many times before on the waters of Galilee.
Oh yes, Jesus could have called more experienced, more devout, more capable men than Andrew and Peter, James and John. He could have found smoother talkers, faster thinkers, steadier characters.
But sometimes when - poor fisherman that I am - I'm muddling along the Christian way, I'm glad he didn't single out only the top performers. He just came to some very ordinary people and said "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men". And that's what he still does, today.
© Colin Gibson