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 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.
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’?