Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the island nation of Haiti, to help out at a local mission. As is common for trips like this, daily group devotions were part of the schedule, and one evening several of us were sitting on the flat roof of the school building, overlooking the water. (By the way, that sea happened to be one where cruise ship passengers, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars, would float though on a tour!)
In the waning light, some fishermen were putting out a net. With one side held afloat by various buoyant household and scrap items (like milk cartons or foam insulation), the team spread the net out in the water from the boat. Then, the net was pulled in to capture any fish that were within its reach. This wasn’t a quick process, and the boat had no winch or motor, but together the fishermen were able to bring the in net – along with any catch that it had brought up – with practiced and experienced hands.
These fishermen reminded me of some of Jesus’ disciples, who were also fishermen.
Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was 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.
MATTHEW 4:18-20 NASB
I imagine certain followers of Jesus – like Andrew, Peter, James, and John – fishing much like these Haitian fishermen were doing – casting out nets from the shore or from a boat, and pulling in what they could.
The fishing isn’t that good off the shore of Haiti in the location where we were. The fishing run that we watched from the roof of the mission didn’t seem to be very productive. These fishermen might have caught enough for a meal or two that evening, or maybe enough to sell so that they could support their families for another day. This wasn’t an industrial fishing expedition (nor even a miraculous catch like the ones we read about in Luke 5:4-7 and John 21:4-11), where extra fish are falling out of the boat as they flop against each other.
These fishermen couldn’t sell this catch and then just take a few days off. While I don’t know if they also had other jobs during the day, if this was their only vocation, leaving their net would mean leaving their livelihood – no food, no support for their family, no security. I think that this was more like what the disciples’ choice looked like. We don’t know if they had children, but Peter was married, and many – if not all – of the apostles had other jobs when they were called. Some people might have thought that their choice to follow Jesus was cavalier or irresponsible. The disciples knew who they were following, though, even if they didn’t understand all of the details, and they had decided (correctly) that it was even more important than all those other things.
For me, following Jesus like the early disciples doesn’t mean leaving literal nets. When I do fish, I tend to do so with a hook and line, and would likely not be able to support myself – much less a family – with my meager fishing skills. Instead, following Jesus means leaving my identity on the shore, along with my stubborn pride and my faulty selfish desires. It means that I may give up some of my security blankets, trusting God to provide for my “daily bread”. It may obligate me to be generous with the materials and financial goods that I have (rather than putting my trust in them, instead of Him). It might mean taking a step of faith that prevents me from knowing where my next paycheck will come from, only to find it in a multiplied lunch of loaves and fishes (as God, in some fashion, takes care of me and my family today).
Perhaps if I considered the sacrifice made by fishermen, whose net represented their ties to self-sufficiency, I can be reminded that my sacrifice should be no less than theirs. In exchange, I can look forward to a reward that – while undeserved – is no greater than theirs. Maybe you can, too.