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Last month I watched a movie called The Peanut Butter Falcon. Set in poor, rural America, the film is about a troubled fisherman who befriends a young man with Down’s syndrome. I’m sure that not all fishermen are the same, but the ones in this movie were rough men, foul-mouthed, covered with tattoos, and ready to fire a rifle at you. If I met them in real-life, I would be scared of them.
In the gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen. Today we’ll read a short passage about Jesus choosing his first disciples.
[Read Mark 1:16-20]
I want to start by giving a bit of background about how religious teachers chose disciples in Jesus’s time. After that, I want to reflect on how God’s way of evaluating us is so different from how society evaluates us. Lastly, I’ll share my thoughts about how to be a fisher of men.
Why did he choose fishermen?
In Jesus’ time, religious teachers didn’t usually go looking for disciples. It was the other way around: normally, potential disciples would seek to be accepted by a teacher.
But in cases where a religious teacher (or rabbi) wanted to find a disciple, they had high standards. Teachers of the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament, would only choose the best students who were about to finish their religious studies. These were usually young men of 14 or 15 years old. To the boys who failed to be chosen, the rabbi would say, “Go home and learn your family’s business. When you have children, pray that they may become disciples of the Torah.”
Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen. So, either they didn’t qualify to be someone’s disciple, or they didn’t seek to become disciples in the first place. Fishing was probably their family business.
Why didn’t Jesus choose disciples out of the best young students? Why did he choose blue-collar workers who smelled like fish and sweat? They weren’t even looking for Jesus. They were still in the middle of throwing nets when Jesus called them. Also, Jesus may have already known the mistakes these men would make in the future. Simon Peter would pretend not to know Jesus three times. James and John also had embarrassing moments when the sin of their hearts was exposed. Yet, Jesus chose them to carry out his mission that would impact the whole world.
Jesus sees differently
I don’t know exactly why Jesus chose these specific men. But I love how God often does the unexpected. God’s way of seeing and doing things is not our human way.
Jesus’s choice of humble fishermen tells us that he sees value and potential in people that society may overlook as ordinary or unqualified. No one would have guessed that Simon Peter and his friends would become leaders of a movement that spread across the world and has continued for two whole millennia.
As human beings, we have a habit of judging people by their appearance. This is the story of an American rapper named Lecrae. He has won many awards, including two Grammy Awards.
Lecrae grew up fatherless. As early as kindergarten, he was already getting into trouble—by putting firecrackers in the school bathroom. At 16, he was involved in drugs, fighting, stealing, and joining a gang. Teachers said he was a hopeless case, but God disagreed. Today, he uses rap and hip hop to share the hope of the gospel.
Society dismissed Lecrae. Through other Christians, Jesus told him, “Society may not think you’re good enough, but you are more than enough to me. I know you may look like a mustard seed from the outside, but I only wish you could see the tree you will become.”
He did not change overnight. Even after committing his life to God at the age of 19, he still made mistakes that he regretted—like getting his girlfriend pregnant when he was 22 and aborting their baby. But God has kept him on the path of growth, from a small seed into a tree. God’s love and patience for us is astounding.
Jesus challenges us to see people differently. He spent time with disgraced members of society: tax collectors, prostitutes, and people with leprosy. As disciples of Jesus, we too must learn to see the way our Master sees. Even when people are broken and ugly inside, they bear the face of God who created them with love.
In light of that, it’s no surprise that Jesus chose a bunch of rough fishermen to be his closest disciples, colleagues, and friends.
Jesus saw you and me
As I reflected on this passage, I was touched by how Jesus noticed and purposefully focused on these fishermen. Twice in the passage, it says that “Jesus saw”. In verse 16, “he saw Simon and his brother Andrew”. In verse 19, “he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John”. To him, they were not just common laborers working in the background.
Many people feel that they are nobody special. Many feel that they haven’t done enough, aren’t talented enough, aren’t good enough. I can relate to those feelings.
From young, my parents’ words gave me the impression that I’m only good enough if I have a respectable job that can impress my relatives. I’m sure my father was disappointed that I became an English teacher instead of an accountant or doctor. I’m glad that I chose a job which matched my personality and interests. But even now, sometimes I still see myself as a loser. The influence of our parents’ values can be very strong. On top of our parents, the whole of society is a strong voice that tells us “you are only respectable and important if you …”
Today’s passage reminds me that Jesus doesn’t see me the way society does. I know that when Jesus looks at me, he sees one that he is willing to die for. When God the Father looks at me, he sees a “beloved son.” Not a “son who doesn’t earn a big salary”.
My value as a person is not earned. It is given. When we try to earn our value, or get it from someone other than God, we may feel good about ourselves for awhile. But it is very fragile.
When I remember that God gives me value, by his love for me, it changes the way I live. Instead of working to impress people or to fulfill their expectations, I am free to work for God’s pleasure and God’s glory.
How to be a fisher of men
What does it mean to work for God’s pleasure and glory? You can get many different yet good answers to this question by asking different Christians. For today, let me limit my answer to the context of this passage in Mark.
Jesus called the fishermen to look beyond catching fish. He also wanted them to catch men. What, to be eaten? No, to draw people to hear Jesus’s message. This call to be fishers of men is for each follower of Jesus today.
What does it mean to work for God’s pleasure and glory? It means that when I work as an English teacher, it’s not just for money or personal fulfillment although these are good things. I also offer my job to God as a channel, through which he can draw students to himself.
I’m always ready to answer questions about my religious beliefs—which my students do ask occasionally. Sometimes, when there’s a natural opportunity, I take initiative to share a small thought or event—something related to my view of life that is influenced by God.
Most of the time, my students and I don’t talk about religious topics. But that’s OK. After all, the Christian faith is not just a religious topic. Our faith encompasses every part of life! It is relevant to everything on earth, from politics to potato chips. Talking about our faith isn’t limited to answering questions like, “Do you believe in an afterlife?” And, sharing our faith isn’t limited to words; we also share it through our actions.
Whether through words or actions, we want to share the goodness of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul describes his work as “spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.” If the gospel is like a fragrant flower or a bottle of perfume, we who have enjoyed the aroma are called to share it with others. Our very lives should emanate the sweetness of this aroma—not just our hands or neck, but our whole body and soul.
We are not simply asking people to buy a product called “faith” or subscribe to a membership called “Christianity”. To be a fisher of men, we must experience a life-changing reality—often not a dramatic change, but change that happens one day at a time—and ask God to draw people to himself through us.
How it happens exactly will be unique to you. God will work through you, as you involve him in every area of your life. For Lecrae, one way he shares the gospel is through music. Through music, he reaches other rap lovers, whether they are just listeners or fellow musicians. And of course, he not only seeks to draw people to Jesus through his profession but also in his daily life.
The starting point is for you to taste the goodness of God yourself. It’s a starting point we must continually return to. We don’t try to be fishers of men out of duty. We don’t do it just because Christians are supposed to. We ask God to help us see how great he is. We ask God to grow us in noticing and loving people the way he does. We ask God for ways to share his goodness so that other people can taste it too.
Let me close with a few questions you can reflect on:
- First, how would you describe yourself? Is your self-identity more influenced by society’s standards or by God’s perspective?
- Second, who do you tend to look down on? Can you imagine God loving that person? Ask God to open your eyes to something new about that person.
- Finally, have you tasted God’s goodness recently? What could you do to experience more of it?
I hope one of these questions will help in your journey with God this week.