Mark 1:16-20

JESUS CHOOSES HIS FRIENDS

Mk. 1:16-20

While he was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. So Jesus said to them, “Follow me! and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. He went a little farther and he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were in their boat, mending their nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat, with the hired servants, and went away after him.

No sooner had Jesus taken his decision and decided his method than he proceeded to build up his staff. A leader must begin somewhere. He must get to himself a little band of kindred souls to whom he can unburden his own heart and on whose hearts he may write his message. So Mark here shows us Jesus literally laying the foundations of his Kingdom and calling his first followers.

There were many fishermen in Galilee. Josephus, who, for a time, was governor of Galilee, and who is the great historian of the Jews, tells us that in his day three hundred and thirty fishing boats sailed the waters of the lake. Ordinary people in Palestine seldom ate meat, probably not more than once a week. Fish was their staple diet (Lk.11:11; Matt.7:10; Mk. 6:30-44; Lk.24:42). Usually the fish was salt because there was no means of transporting fresh fish. Fresh fish was one of the greatest of all delicacies in the great cities like Rome. The very names of the towns on the lakeside show how important the fishing business was. Bethsaida (GSN0966) means House of Fish; Tarichaea means The Place of Salt Fish, and it was there that the fish were preserved for export to Jerusalem and even to Rome itself. The salt fish industry was big business in Galilee.

The fishermen used two kinds of nets, both of which are mentioned or implied in the gospels. They used the net called the sagene (GSN4522). This was a kind of seine- or trawl-net. It was let out from the end of the boat and was so weighted that it stood, as it were, upright in the water. The boat then moved forward, and, as it moved, the four corners of the net were drawn together, so that the net became like a great bag moving through the water and enclosing the fish. The other kind of net, which Peter and Andrew were using here, was called the amphiblestron (GSN0293). It was a much smaller net. It was skilfully cast into the water by hand and was shaped rather like an umbrella.

It is naturally of the greatest interest to study the men whom Jesus picked out as his first followers.

(i) We must notice what they were. They were simple folk. They did not come from the schools and the colleges; they were not drawn from the ecclesiastics or the aristocracy; they were neither learned nor wealthy. They were fishermen. That is to say, they were ordinary people. No one ever believed in the ordinary man as Jesus did. Once George Bernard Shaw said, “I have never had any feeling for the working-classes, except a desire to abolish them, and replace them by sensible people.” In The Patrician John Galsworthy makes Miltoun, one of the characters, say, “The mob! How I loathe it! I hate its mean stupidity, I hate the sound of its voice, and the look on its face it’s so ugly, so little!” Once in a fit of temper Carlyle declared that there were twenty-seven millions of people in England–mostly fools! Jesus did not feel like that. Lincoln said, “God must love the common people–he made so many of them.” It was as if Jesus said, “Give me twelve ordinary men and with them, if they will give themselves to me, I will change the world.” A man should never think so much of what he is as of what Jesus Christ can make him.

(ii) We must notice what they were doing when Jesus called them. They were doing their day’s work, catching the fish and mending the nets. It was so with many a prophet. “I am no prophet,” said Amos, “nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel’.” (Am.7:14-15.) The call of God can come to a man, not only in the house of God, not only in the secret place, but in the middle of the day’s work. As MacAndrew, Kipling’s Scots engineer, had it:

“From coupler flange to spindle guide I see thy hand, O God; Predestination in the stride Of yon connecting rod.”

The man who lives in a world that is full of God cannot ever escape him.

(iii) We must notice how he called them. Jesus’ summons was, “Follow me!” It is not to be thought that on this day he stood before them for the first time. No doubt they had stood in the crowd and listened; no doubt they had stayed to talk long after the rest of the crowd had drifted away. No doubt they already had felt the magic of his presence and the magnetism of his eyes. Jesus did not say to them, “I have a theological system which I would like you to investigate; I have certain theories that I would like you to think over; I have an ethical system I would like to discuss with you.” He said, “Follow me!” It all began with a personal reaction to himself; it all began with that tug on the heart which begets the unshakable loyalty. This is not to say that there are none who think themselves into Christianity; but for most of us following Christ is like falling in love. It has been said that “we admire people for reasons; we love them without reasons.” The thing happens just because they are they and we are we. “I,” said Jesus, “when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself.” (Jn.12:32.) In by far the greatest number of cases a man follows Jesus Christ, not because of anything that Jesus said but because of everything that Jesus is.

(iv) Lastly we must note what Jesus offered them. He offered them a task. He called them not to ease but to service. Someone has said that what every man needs is “something in which he can invest his life.” So Jesus called his men, not to a comfortable ease and not to a lethargic inactivity; he called them to a task in which they would have to spend themselves and burn themselves up, and, in the end, die for his sake and for the sake of their fellow men. He called them to a task wherein they could win something for themselves only by giving their all to him and to others.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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