Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?

Here is a question for you. Suppose you started a spiritual ministry; it is beginning to have an impact in the area and you feel you need helpers to assist you in the work. Whom would you choose? There are church leaders who have been watching your efforts with a good deal of interest. You are also aware of political leaders in the area as well as some wealthy citizens. You might also try to find a celebrity to help promote your work.

Whom do you approach for help?

Jesus Calls Disciples

Jesus Calls Disciples by Edward Armitage 1817-1896

Jesus Recruits His First Helpers

Up to this point, we have heard reference to Jesus’ success in Galilee, as was mentioned in his visit to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. But so far we have heard no details of his work. Mark 1 says:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

And Luke 4 says:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

In the same chapter Luke says that Jesus confronted his audience in Nazareth by saying: You will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ But we still have no details of his work in Galilee. However, Jesus’ work had evidently grown to the point that he needed assistants; so he chose some.

Mark says:

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

We know that Jesus interacted with the Pharisees of the area—the religious élite, but Jesus didn’t call any of them. Apparently, Jesus did not choose anyone of significant influence that might help him expand his work. Instead, Jesus chose a group of fishermen!

Who are these Guys?

Neither Mark, Matthew, nor Luke previously introduced any of these fishermen before telling us that Jesus called them to follow him. But the Gospel of John, chapter 1, give us information about two of them. Andrew was one of two disciples of John the Baptist to whom John said about Jesus: Look, the Lamb of God!

Andrew and the other disciple of John spent the rest of the day with Jesus, and then Andrew went to his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus, but at this point we know nothing more about James and John. So it seems that Andrew and Simon were already acquainted with Jesus before he called them to follow him; and Andrew, at least, had been a disciple of John the Baptist—but they were still only fishermen.

Jesus could have chosen men who were much more influential and highly regarded, but he chose these fishermen; and I think this establishes Jesus’ approach to people. Though he was kind and receptive to those Pharisees who asked legitimate questions, the people of his heart were the common people, including those who were marginalized, outcast, and looked down upon by the religious élite.

You would think that having people who could read would have been helpful, but these fishermen were likely illiterate. Studies show that at this time 90-95% of the population was illiterate, and there is no reason to think these fishermen were any different. But perhaps it was a good idea to recruit common people as helpers, as they would be able to relate better to other common people—the very people Jesus most wanted to reach.

Was Jesus’ Choice of these Fishermen a Good One?

Now we must not think that these fishermen were particularly poor or marginalized; their families apparently ran good fishing businesses, owned their own equipment, and even employed hired help. They might even have had good reputations in the northern Galilean fishing communities, but still they were only uneducated common people.

How well did they do as Jesus’ assistants? These four are often thought of as leaders among Jesus’ disciples—especially Peter (Simon), James, and John—because they are mentioned with Jesus so much. But I have long thought, based on their many bungles and embarrassing episodes, that not only were they not leaders but they spent more time with Jesus because they were immature and needed more support and development. John seems to have been quite young—perhaps even a teenager.

Remember the audacious request James and John made to Jesus in Mark 10:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

Or their response to the Samaritans in Luke 9:

He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them.

And as for Peter,

  • He rebuked Jesus for predicting that people would kill him, and Jesus called him satan (accuser)
  • He wanted to know exactly how many times he had to forgive someone
  • He sliced off the servants ear, and Jesus had fix it
  • Then he disowned Jesus three times in his moment of deepest need

Peter James, and John were not very promising helpers.

But How did They Turn Out Later?

Andrew is hardly mentioned after being called from his boat by Jesus, and we don’t know what he did afterward.

James was very active in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus, but he was killed by the authorities quite early on.

Peter finally blossomed into a genuine leader, preached the gospel in many places, and was involved in many of the earliest key churches. He was killed in Rome by the Romans some 35-40 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospel of Mark is thought by many to represent Peter’s preaching.

John lived a very long time and influenced an entire group of next-generation church leaders, and his preaching formed the basis of the Gospel of John. Apparently he spent his last years as a local leader in the very important church at Ephesus.

So, it seems that Jesus’ choice of four common fishermen as his first assistants turned out to be a good one after all. Now that we have reviewed his first helpers, next time we will finally learn some details about Jesus’ mighty works in Galilee!

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work:

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?


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37 Responses to Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?

  1. sheila0405 says:

    It’s nice to read a reasonable timeline of events. Reading the Gospels is tricky, even the synoptics, because they overlap. Thanks for the great introduction! Perhaps the Gospel of Mark should have been chosen as the first listed one in the NT, instead of Matthew. (BTW, Marc is back! He has a nice post up today.) I’m looking forward to your own series unfolding. It’s very helpful to get a feel for how Jesus’ ministry began and progressed.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I absolutely agree with you about Mark. If I were arranging the New Testament, it would begin Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Not only does that seem to be the proper chronological order, but people who read the gospels for the first time would benefit from Mark’s brevity, action-driven pacing, and straightforward delivery without the (legitimate) agenda of the other writers.

      I am glad you like the series so far; I hope to continue delivering on the story. It doesn’t sound like Sunday school, does it?


      • Chas says:

        Tim, the problem is that we don’t see the vital news that Jesus was the Son of God from Mark’s Gospel. Without accepting that, our understanding of everything else is going to be rather limited.


        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I agree that Mark leaves out much of what we know about Jesus, but I still think it is a good introduction for first time readers. Presumably, they will go on to read the other gospels; but they have to start somewhere and I think Mark is the best choice; Luke would be the second.


          • Chas says:

            Tim, that is the question – will they go on to read the other gospels if they haven’t seen Jesus the Son of God?


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, I think if a person reads Mark, they will likely read more. But I think Mark does make it clear that Jesus is unique in his relationship with God. The book begins with “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”

            Though Jesus does not specifically call himself the son of God in Mark, there are references to his being the son of God by others: in Mark 3:11, 5:7, and 15:37. I don’t think Mark neglects the issue.

            I don’t think reading the book of Mark will cause people to think Jesus is not unique. Where would you suggest new people start reading the Bible?


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Yes, Luke would be my second choice. It is a great place to start.


  2. Good post! I think Jesus’ choice of assistants mirrors the whole tenor of his ministry, which is that it’s grass-roots and bottom-up rather than top-down. He consistently eschews the ways of earthly power and position, and instead comes as an ordinary person among ordinary people, without any pomp or show. And his disciples are at first a pretty hopeless bunch (much like the rest of us), but gradually he transforms them into something amazing. Gives me hope, anyway. 🙂


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Evan, I think you are right on target. Jesus was not interested in the types of promotion and success most of us are all about. He does, indeed, work from the bottom up!


  3. fiddlrts says:

    I probably identify with Thomas more than the other disciples, but in my heart, I want to be Andrew. He seems to have stepped in to help (with the loaves and fishes), rather than looking out for his own position.

    It definitely is striking that Christ picked everyday people, those who probably didn’t have a lot of extra time to spend being religious.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thomas or Andrew are both good choices. I think Thomas god a bad rap from the doubting thing; I think all of us should question things before just accepting things too quickly.

      I agree with you on Andrew. He and Philip were also the ones to tell Jesus about the the Greeks who had asked for him. Still helping…


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  9. michaeleeast says:

    I believe that even after Pentecost Peter makes mistakes.
    As for Paul his teachings vary markedly from Jesus’.
    There is little other records.
    Some of the other letters contain a mixture of light and darkness..
    Once the teacher has gone the disciples interpret with a lesser understanding.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I agree with you that Peter continued to develop and made mistakes along the way. But I don’t see that Paul’s teachings varied from those of Jesus; the teachings of Jesus are evident throughout Paul’s letters, even though he applied them in creative ways to address the circumstances of his churches.

      I am also unsure what letters you have in mind that are mixed with darkness. However, I think you are right that some later followers have a lesser understanding of their teacher than others. Perhaps you can elaborate.

      I think that, ultimately, Jesus’ choice of disciples were good choices.


    • Chas says:

      Michael, in addition to your correct statement regarding the dilution of understanding as each follower passes on the message, we can also see how the message itself could be passed on with errors, as each person emphasized the things that appealed particularly to them and maybe omitted things that they didn’t recognize were important. Like you, I regard Paul’s letters as containing much of his own views, hence the darkness.


      • sheila0405 says:

        I’m in complete agreement about Paul’s writings!


      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        I think a bit differently on Paul. I don’t see him as darkness; in fact he followed Jesus very closely. However, his job was a practical one in which he addressed issues that came up in local congregations. He might advise one congregation to not have women speaking up in a church perhaps because it was pertinent to the situation in that church.

        He also advised slaves to honor their masters because the teachings of Jesus were to transform individuals quickly and society gradually. And Jesus specifically taught against rebelling against those who dominate us.

        Remember that Paul spoke to the culture of his time, and he put devotion to Jesus above cultural issues. He was not speaking to the culture of our time at our point of development.

        Are there other places where Paul’s writings reflect darkness?


        • sheila0405 says:

          Tim, the passages on homosexuality seem dark to me.


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            I agree, Shelia, that the passage in Romans 1 seems dark at first glance, but this is the only passage where Paul clearly mentions same-sex interaction. The references in his two lists of bad behaviors are not likely about homosexuality–especially gay relationships.

            However, I don’t think this should detract from Paul’s great contributions and the fact that he followed Jesus’ teachings so closely. Though he was an essential early leader among believers, he was to some extent a product of his culture, as we all are.

            On the other hand, we might consider more closely what Paul intended in Romans 1. There are two very positive possibilities that, to me, seem more likely than a condemnation of gay relationships.

            1. If we look at the context, it seems that Paul is talking about idolatry. So the practice he condemns has nothing to do with gay relationships but rather interactions with pagan temple prostitutes.

            2. The other possibility becomes more clear when we realize that Paul’s thought does not end with the end of chapter 1 but is continued in the first part of chapter two where he ways, ‘You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.’

            What this implies is that the derogation of gentiles in chapter 1 is not the voice of Paul, but Paul’s description of the common Jewish opinion of gentiles–a people dear to Paul. So in chapter two, Paul is essentially telling the Jews that, though they despise gentiles, they themselves are no better.

            If you are interested, see more at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/paul-and-homosexuality-in-romans/


          • sheila0405 says:

            Got it. But modern conservative Christians usually don’t want to hear those nuances
            That’s why the passages seem dark.


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Sheila, I think you are right that many people don’t want to consider these reasonable options, but I don’t blame them too much. Inherited interpretations from the past set us up for assumptions.

            Of course, Paul might have had gay couple in mind (unlikely), but it wouldn’t matter that much. Paul was not inerrant and was influenced by his culture as all of us are. An error on this issue does not impact the tremendous contributions he made to the early church. Had it not been for him, perhaps we gentiles would never know Jesus was for us.


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  11. Chas says:

    Tim, regarding the incident of Peter cutting off the ear of one of the people who came to capture Jesus, I could never work out why Jesus, with his message of non-violence, and his faith in God, would have told his disciples to take a sword (which they seemed to have had readily to hand!) in the first place.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I am not sure either, Chas. Some think he did so in order to make a statement against violence at the confrontation. I think it more likely to be a protection against wild beasts, but I really don’t think the passage tells us anything about it.


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