Matthew 4:18-22 As he walked 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. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
My first thought is that I don’t know a lot of people directly involved in producing the food I eat. I grew up in a town known for its peaches, but this was more like a treat that rolled around once a year, not the stuff of my daily sustenance. We forget how different the world of the Bible is.
This makes me wonder… What impact did these fishermen abandoning their jobs have? Did others go hungry because of them? Most people at this time and in this place were subsistence farmers. Very little of what they grew or caught was their livelihood. It was primarily so they could eat something. It is also imprtant to remember that food was much more readily shared in extended families and communities. The slaughter of a goat was cause for a whole village to celebrate.
It is often said that the fishermen were the bottom of the barrel. I’m not sure how true that is, but it makes some sense. There’s not as much skill to catching fish with a huge net, as opposed to growing crops and tending livestock. Perhaps fishing has earned its reputation as a leisurely sport for slackers. (however, don’t tell that to the guys on Deadliest Catch or professional fishermen.)
Finally Jesus’ invitation uses a strange turn of phrase, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Mostly when we hear this we think of evangelism. This is probably a good metaphor for modern evangelism. You toss out the bait (four spiritual laws, a tract, or invitation to some church function) eventually some sucker fish gets hooked (emotionally manipulated, peer pressured) and you reel them in (they pray the prayer and sign a card).
What if we read “I will make you fish for people” without that filter?
Maybe Jesus is saying, “Right now your life is wrapped up in your own existence. You are mostly concerned about your own survival. Follow me and I will broaden your horizon. You will see that the world is about more than subsistence. You will see people and how they relate to each other. You will see oppression and injustice, but you will also see beauty, truth and real life.”
I realize this is probably reading a lot into the text, but I think an imaginative reading of the text that listens beyond our modern lenses can hear afresh what Jesus is saying.