As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18
One of the most interesting verses in the Bible is Mark’s account of Jesus’ call of his first disciples. We are told very little about the account other than that Jesus came to meet these men by the Sea of Galilee – at their workplace. Mark goes on to say that Jesus asked them to follow him, and they left everything and followed him. The brevity of the account, coupled with the gravity of invitation, makes it all the more intriguing.
The verse that fascinates me is the off-hand comment Mark includes that Simon and Andrew were “casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen.” Isn’t that a strange little thing to say, “they were fishing, because they were fishermen”? You can almost tell from the way this passage is written that Jesus is going to challenge the self-identity of these unsuspecting men.
We don’t have the dialog, but we could rather imagine Jesus asking, “What are you doing fishing?” To which Simon and Andrew might respond, “We are fishing, because we are fishermen.” And in typical rabbinical fashion Jesus might respond, “Now, how do you know that you are fishermen? Who told you that you were fishermen?” And they might reply, “Of course we are fishermen. We’ve always been fishermen. We were born in a fishing village; our father is a fisherman; his father was a fishermen; all our friends are fishermen. We look like fishermen; we smell like fishermen; we think like fishermen. It’s what we know; it’s what we do; it’s who we are. We are fishermen.” To which Jesus breaks in and says, “Nonsense. The fact is, you don’t know who you are. Follow me and I will show you your true identity. Follow me and your life will take on new meaning and great purpose. Follow me and you will become a part of God’s mighty movement to transform the world. Follow me and you will reclaim your identity” – “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew dropped their nets on the spot, followed Jesus, and began a wild pursuit to find…themselves. What they came to find was what we all find, that the journey to find themselves, to recover their true identity, was tied up in discovering the identity of the one they were following.
And so it is with you and me, we develop all kinds of ideas about who we are – a winner or a loser, fast or slow, smart or dumb, important or insignificant, good or bad, successful or a failure. Our self-identity is shaped by the culture in which we live and the experiences we have as we interact with that culture. All of it shapes our self-concept, our self-identity. In it all, like Simon and Andrew, we see ourselves less in terms of the possibilities and opportunities which lie ahead of us and more in terms of the limitations which define us.
It is important for us to know that Jesus does not see us in the limiting categories of the culture but in the limitless wonder of the eternal kingdom of God. Simon and Andrew may have understood themselves to be ordinary fishermen, but Jesus invited them, just as he invites us, to see themselves when bathed in the grace and truth of God and to find their true identity by coming to know the one who created them.
Lord Jesus, you know me better than I know myself. Help me come to know who I am by coming to know who you are. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston