The Messy Truth About Calling Disciples: These Are Not The Fishermen You’re Looking For


How many of you remember what you wanted to be when you were eleven or twelve?  That’s a fundamentally different question than, “What did you want to be when you grow up?”  Some of the very practical among you will say, “I always knew I was going to follow in Daddy’s footsteps and take over the blacksmithing business, the farm, or the shrimp boat.”  That’s if you lived in that world where the oldest male child was assumed to take on the duties and responsibilities of the family business once the father passed away.  For most of human civilization, this is how kids figured out who they were and what they were going to do with the rest of their lives.  You did what your parents did.  If you were a woman, you had as many male children as possible so they could keep doing what your father did and your husband does.  Usually stories like this are followed by, “and we were happy with our meager hand to mouth living and no chance of doing anything else!”

This is not what I’m talking about.  What did you want to be when you were eleven or twelve? No matter how rich or poor you were, there were probably a few things we all wanted to be:  a superhero, a racecar driver, an astronaut, a fire fighter, an EMT, a police officer, maybe a Disney princess, a steamboat captain, or if you were me, you wanted to be a Jedi knight.  I wanted to be a Jedi knight from Star Wars.  It didn’t matter which one.  Luke Skywalker would have been great but now that I’m older and have a beard, I’ll gladly settle for Obi wan Kenobi.  When I was eleven, I thought the coolest thing possible I could wasn’t the ability to fly, leap tall buildings, or drive fast cars.  I wanted to be a robe wearing spiritual master who talked in oddly constructed sentences and battled the forces of darkness.  Funny enough, there is a part of me that believes I got there. I have the robe and everything.  I can even wear it public.

One of the most important abilities of a Jedi master is the ability to influence those with weak minds.  Those not attuned to the Force often refer to this as the “Jedi Mind Trick”.  In the world of Star Wars, as our own, weak minds are easily susceptible to the slightest suggestion.  I first saw Obi Wan Kenobi use this ability in Episode IV (A New Hope).  He and Luke Skywalker took C-3PO and R-2D2 to the Mos Eisely spaceport to find a ship and pilot to take them to Princess Leia.  The Imperial Storm Troopers were looking for R2 and 3PO.  They knew these two droids had the Death Star plans.  When two troopers stopped Luke’s sand speeder, Luke was sure the game was up; they were caught.  That’s when Ben Kenobi simply waves his hand in front of the storm troopers and says, “These are not the droids you are looking for”.  The storm trooper repeats back, “These are not the droids WE are looking for, move along now.”  Luke’s mind is blown.  He’s never seen anything like it.  It’s the coolest thing that a Jedi does.  However, is it what Jesus does?

If you read the story of Jesus calling his first disciples on the beach in Galilee, you’d be forgiven for thinking, this looks like a Jedi master using his persuasive powers to call new disciples.  After all, look how effortless it appears, like something out of a movie.  With the wave of his hand, Peter follows Jesus like a misguided storm trooper.

Jesus comes to the beach, alongside the Sea of Galilee, near his new home in Capernaum.  There he finds a group of commercial fishermen.   The first two he meets are brothers, Peter and Andrew.  They are working, throwing their nets in the sea.  Matthew throws in the captain obvious level remark, “because they were fishermen”.  We guessed that one, Matt.  Here’s where it becomes a Jedi moment.  Jesus says, “Come, follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”  And just like the compliant storm troopers, Matthew says, “Right away, they left their nets and followed Jesus.”

The scene repeats itself a little further down the beach with another pair of brothers.  James and John (who were in business with their dad Zebedee) were repairing their nets.  There are people on this island who know a thing or two about repairing nets.  Matthew doesn’t tell us Jesus’ Jedi line to James and John.  We only know that it work as well as it did on Simon and Andrew.  Because, “the immediately left their boat and followed him.”

Whether we realize it or not, we normally preach, talk, pray, and share this passage as one grand Jedi mind trick.  We don’t consider the implications for these disciples and their families in that day and time let alone our own.  Jesus speaks to someone and then those “soon to be” disciples in drop what they’re doing, and like mind controlled robots, leave everything, to follow Jesus.   James and John walk out on their father, the family business (according to the text) to follow this unknown rabbi.  What would we say of someone who did similar today?   This is why what we’re reading isn’t a Jedi mind trick, it is not a movie, and everything that happened that day is not on the page.

At the beginning, I talked about kids who grew up knowing they had to be who their fathers and mothers were.  Poverty made it so.  Generations of living by the sea or on a certain parcel provided their livelihood and an income.  The disciples were those kids.  James and John were going to take over from Zebedee.  Fishing was all they had ever known.  They were going to be fishermen.  No one had ever given them a choice to be anything else.

Today, as it is often presented, is not simply a feel good story of how Jesus chooses the unprepared rough and tumble fishermen to be the disciples who start the church.  The preacher stands up and says “You too can be a Peter, Andrew, James or John.  Jesus is choosing you, just like he choose them. Now metaphorically drop everything and follow him.”  I’m not going to say that.  I’m sick of saying that.   Why?  Jesus isn’t talking about following him as a penciled in, when it’s good for us thing that doesn’t conflict with the rest of our lives.

I think this story is about the other half of the choice equation.  The Jedi mind trick implies coercion. The weak minded are manipulated into doing something they would not otherwise do. The disciples were not forced into accompanying Jesus.  Jesus gives us the opportunity to choose who we want to be.

Some preachers also talk about the speed in which the disciples followed Jesus.  “Immediately” and “right away” jump off the page.  Phrases like this add drama to the story.  We’ve got to follow Jesus “now!” But, when we focus on the speed, we lose the significance of the choice itself.  It is the choice to go with Jesus that matters; not how quick you got there or the road you took.  The decision, the free will to say, “Yes, this sounds right to me” is the most important part of this story.  Jesus gives us the freedom of choice itself.  The freedom to choose creates space and time, affording us the ability to focus on what’s really important in our lives.  Jesus gives us the space and time we need to decide who want to be.  If we use that time properly, questions about going to heaven or hell becomes irrelevant.

We have so many things in life by default.  I am bald by default. We accept (rightly or wrongly) large portions of our life by default.  Some of us have received Jesus by default.  He’s always been there and we’ve just accepted this Christian reality as a presence in our lives, like a cell phone and a car.  From time to time, Jesus performs a useful function.  But here’s the messy truth, the good news:  Jesus isn’t something we decide by default.  Going with Jesus is an honest to God choice, one we need to make each day.  We need to put down the things which appear so important then make a choice a unlike any other in our lives, and see where it takes us.  And tomorrow, make that choice again.