The Call Of The First Disciples
This theme of what it means to be a follower of Christ, or disciple, starts very early in Matthew’s account. In the fourth chapter of his Gospel he gives an account of the call of the first disciples. The passage in question in Mt. 4:18-22 which states,
“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
Perhaps this is one of those passages that has been read so much that over time its significance has been lost. The call of the first disciples is an event in church history that cannot be understated. The idea of Peter and Andrew being poor, and therefore having nothing to lose has become a popular thought in modern Christianity.
Is this really the case? To be a fisherman at the Sea of Galilee was to be a participant in a thriving industry. In fact, the fish that the water yielded was one the primary protein sources. Fish was also the staple protein of the Greco-Roman world and the fish of Galilee were a highly prized delicacy in Alexandria Egypt and even Syria.
Mt. 4:18-22 also reveals that they had a minimum of one fishing boat. However, it was a fairly common practice to form a cooperative of sorts with other fisherman as can be surmised by Luke 5:7, 9-10. These cooperatives were vital because the fish of the sea was a key part of the economy. It was a common practice for the Roman government to contract for fish for other parts of the empire.
To have a fishing boat was no small expense. It points to a thriving business that the first disciples were engaged it. It was a business where the fruits of their labor were not only prized locally. They were also prized in other parts of the empire.
The First Disciples Left Everything
The home that Peter lived in in Capernaum, which is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, was excavated and found to be a two-family home. In Mt. 8:14 we see that Peter had mother in law, but whether his wife was still living at the time is a matter of debate since she is not mentioned.
What is certain is that the first disciples owned a boat and a fairly large home. This demonstrated that though they may not have been overly wealthy, they were most likely the equivalent of todays middle class. The same can most likely be said for James and John.
There is something else that is strikingly interesting when examining the four men mentioned in the passage. Jesus said to follow and the dropped everything and followed. They left their homes, careers, and family to follow Christ.
It is possible that this was not their first encounter with Jesus. John 1:35-42 details what many believe to be the first encounter. This passage from John assists us in understanding Matthew from a different point of view.
They Accepted The Call of Discipleship
This passage shows us that Andrew and Simon (soon to be Peter) were originally disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus called them then and stayed the night at their home. This lends a crucial perspective to the events that happened in Matthew. Before Andrew and Peter left their profitable fishing business, they met the Lord.
It was in this scenario that Christ told Peter, then known as Simon, that he is now Cephas, or Peter in English. This is something that only happened previously in Genesis chapter 17 when the lord changed the name of Abram to Abraham.
In this scenario in Matthew chapter 4 we see the first disciples formally called to be students, or disciples of Christ. In ancient Israel a student did not choose his teacher, but it was the teacher who chose the student. This would not have been lost on the first disciples called. They had followed John the Baptist, and the Baptist told them to “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36).
They were seeking the Messiah and they dropped everything to follow Christ. During this time a disciple did everything with the Rabbi. They ate, travelled with, slept, and were constantly taught. More importantly a disciple was expected to drop everything and make a total change in lifestyle. This was for an unforeseen period of time to be under the tutelage of the Rabbi.
What are we willing to give up to go where Christ leads?