I will make you fishers of men. Really?

8 min. to read.

My vision is changing. It happened suddenly. If I’m sitting on the couch looking at my computer screen and I look up at the TV across the room, I can almost hear the gears slowly racheting as the image comes into focus. Whirrrr. Click. Sputter. My machinery is getting old.

Seeing the focusing process unfolding like this, something that used to happen instantly, something I’ve taken for granted, reminds me of another vision problem.

When we’re used to seeing something in a certain way, it can be difficult to see anything else. I’m talking about perspective now, not vision. It’s a kind of blindness. We’re so sure of our view that we miss things, things that might be obvious if we could see differently.

As my eyes age, so too has my perspective. I’m seeing things differently than I used to. It’s a disconcerting experience, at times fuzzy, when the new things come into focus. Especially for someone raised on a diet of certainty.

This week I was reading the Gospel of Mark. I was hungry for something simple, a little home cooking. My intellectual and spiritual diet has been getting a bit theoretical, a restaurant menu gone too gourmet, full of self-conscious techniques and trendy molecular gastronomy.

Like I said, I’ve needed some meat-and-potatoes. Well, I’m vegetarian, so maybe it was beans I needed. Anyway… I read some of Jesus’ words. Words I’ve heard since childhood. Words that have always had a clear meaning to me. But my perspective has changed, and this time somethign different came into focus. Whirrr. Click. Sputter.

Stop that; You Need to Fish!

Seriously.  My glasses seem more like just a wind shield these days.  Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone.
Seriously. My glasses seem more like just a wind shield these days. Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone.

Jesus is walking along the rocky beach, and he sees some fishermen hard at work. A couple of them were throwing a cast net in the shallows. A little further down the strand a couple more were sitting in their boats, fixing broken nets.

Jesus walks up to them, and in this incomprehensible moment (Did he know them? Did they know him? Were they already planning to leave their business? Seriously? Who just drops everything on the beach?) asks them to follow him. His exact words: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The version of the Bible I grew up gave the new hires a title, “fishers of men.”

In the community I grew up in the meaning of this title was clear. They were evangelists.  Jesus called these guys to be “fishers of men,” to get others to follow Jesus. Not only that, but this calling was universal. What Jesus said to the four men on the beach was the same thing He wanted to say to me. “Stop doing what you’re doing; come follow me and fish for people.”

As I read these old words this time, my vision was a bit fuzzy, and I saw something different I’d never seen before.

I will make you fishers of men?

It’s not new information. It was always there in the text, but I’d not seen it before. It’s not a change to Jesus’ words. But maybe it changes Jesus’ meaning.

See, the men on the beach, they were fishermen. I mean, that was their occupation. It’s what their dads had trained them for. Fishing was their discipline, by gifts and passions, maybe. By circumstances, surely. It’s what they did.

You say, “Sure, Marc. That’s not anything new.” I say, “But wait? Doesn’t that make a difference?”

See, Jesus was talking to fishermen. So when he said, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men,” he was speaking their language. Now I grew up learning that this was a convenient metaphor that Jesus used, one we can all apply it ourselves. Follow Jesus; Become a Fisher of Men. Our universal calling.

But maybe Jesus wasn’t using a metaphor for us. Maybe he was using one for them. For the men on the beach, for the life-long fishermen.  “Hey,” Jesus was saying, “follow me, and instead of fishing for yourself, instead of fishing for your own satisfaction and making ends meet, I’ll make it so you are fishing for the Kingdom. It’s not food that matters now; it’s people. So, join me and let’s put people first.”

This is different than what I grew up with.  You?  Photo Credit: A melange of widely over-used pics from Google Images.
This is different than what I grew up with. You? Photo Credit: A melange of widely over-used pics from Google Images.

That doesn’t seem all that different of a focus to you? Follow me for a moment. Maybe Jesus wasn’t saying that the universal invitation is for all of us to become “fishers of men,” with whatever connotations that phrase has for you. Maybe Jesus was saying, “Follow me, and I will take who you are and what you do, and I will put it to Kingdom use. Instead of using your gifts and passions and marketplace skills for your own benefit, I will help you use those gifts to bless others.”

What if the people standing on the beach had been architects, or accountants, or nurses? What if they had been teachers or writers or musicians? Would Jesus have still used the same invitation?

Reading Mark 1:17, I wonder if maybe Jesus would have had a unique invitation for each person.

  • Follow me and I’ll make you an architect for the kingdom. Let’s build things that bless people, and serve the people in this industry in a way that brings my Kingdom there.
  • Follow me and I’ll make you an accountant who brings the Kingdom into people’s lives. Let’s use your gift with numbers to make sure there is more fairness, more peace, more reconciliation in the world. Let’s bring my Kingdom to the budget and the bottom line.
  • Follow me and I’ll make you a writer for the kingdom. Let’s paint pictures with words that capture people’s hearts, and help them see the truth. Instead of writing in order to vent your insecurity or build your own glory, let’s write so that others are moved and the Kingdom is lifted up.

What’s the most important job?

Here’s why this matters. I grew up in a community, as did many Christians, where the classic picture of evangelism was seen as the highest calling. This was the most important job you could have. They were the ones who really had given up everything to follow Jesus. They lived on the support of others who weren’t so lucky, and they spent all their time inviting people to follow Jesus.

Most of us couldn’t be full-time evangelists, but we were still encouraged to wedge this behavior into our lives in any way we could. Maybe we had to earn a living, but in our spare time and lunchtimes, we could—if we were serious about Jesus—try our hand at fishing for people. Regardless of our gifts or skills or personality.

But maybe this isn’t what Jesus meant. Maybe Jesus invitation was simply this:

Stop doing what you’re doing for your own gain and benefit. Follow me, and I’ll help you use your gifts and abilities to bless the world. I’ll help you put others first so you can be a part of bringing my Kingdom to life in the world.

Now, I know there’s more here. The disciples didn’t go on to literally fish for Jesus. They really did interact with others in a whole new way. The invitation is still a metaphor. But maybe it’s not about changing into something you’re not, but rather stepping into the fullness of who you already are. Certainly it’s a chance for some of us to lay down the old “reel-em-in” picture of evangelism and see a more unique calling.

It reminds me of Colossians 3:23.  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.”

God knows who you are. God knows the gifts and abilities you have. God knows what is good for your soul. Maybe God isn’t asking you to become like someone else, some image you have of what it means to be a “fisher of men,” and instead is asking you to stop working for yourself, and start working for the Kingdom.

“Follow me and become designers, accountants, writers, bricklayers, CEOs, for the kingdom, using your unique gifts and skills to reach people.”

12 thoughts on “I will make you fishers of men. Really?

  1. Love the perspective change on this passage Marc, that God wants us to use our unique gifts to “reach people.” Thanks for a vision change. I enjoyed the post.

      1. Your welcome Marc, continue to share your gifts. Your a blessing to more people than you know.

  2. Bringing light to the blinded minds is the purest and greatest job a man could do for people on Earth. And it can be done just with any tool. Using words, art… or science, maths… or a simple fish-hook. Life is not burden. Even with its greatest challenges and problems. It is a great opportunity instead.
    Is not the function (be it fisherman, shoemaker, priest or lawier etc) it is about the plus value we create for the people, for the environment… we are all One.
    The moment we peel off the first layer(s) of Ego we shall start to have a glimpse of the importance to always keep the flow balanced. Giving back for what we get !

  3. I want to believe that what you’re saying is truth. Mostly because it sounds easier to me than evangelism does. But what about the fact that… -1- Jesus makes it quite clear we are to go forth and make disciples of ALL men. -2- That these fishermen were the OPPOSITE of gifted? The opposite of bold, the opposite of great speakers, the opposite of magnanimous and charismatic? Using their work how you’re describing it would mean they give some fish away… Lead their fishing buddies to God, maybe the guy who sold them bait.

    I’m not criticizing this thoughtful, well-written article. This could be how God has called YOU to fish. I’m genuinely asking your thoughts on this apparent contradiction.

    1. Hey Mike, thanks for reading and making a comment. Glad you’re here. As I reflect on your words I feel like you are criticizing a point I didn’t make. No where did I say that followers of Jesus shouldn’t share the gospel, or that we should share it with a limited group. I think we should.

      My post was making two points. First, I think most of the time God wants that message shared inside the context of the calling we each have received. Yes, I think Architects are the best at reaching architects. Single moms are the best at reaching single moms. Not to say that others can’t, but it’s been my long experience that when we understand the life and issues of a person, we can more easily connect with them, and in those very real moments we can share the gospel most impactfully. The upside of this is that it means that God values all professions and wants to work through all people. The church I grew up in did not project that. Evangelists were seen as the highest calling, and everyone else was not really obeying God fully.

      Second, that all of life is a context for sharing the gospel. The classic evangelical model leads church people into a conundrum. Everyone is supposed to evangelize, yet there’s a gift of evangelism and most people (Barna polls make this clear) don’t think they have that gift. So, we elevate the people who seem to have that gift. We pay them. We support them. We pray for them. But most people never see their own lives as a mission field. And this viewpoint lets everyone else “off the hook.”

      The truth, as I understand it, is that all of us are ambassadors of the new kingdom, regardless of gifts, culture or context. In part that means words. Being able to give an answer for the hope we have. But those words only have meaning inside of a relational context where we live out the values of the kingdom, sharing Christ’s character through justice, mercy, compassion and service. This is the starting point for all of us, and it’s what creates the space where sharing the gospel with words has meaning.

      Hope that clarifies. Have a great day.

  4. Mark,

    We know from John 1:28 that John the baptizer fingered Jesus as the Messiah on the shores of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, within walking distance of Jerusalem. Two of John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. One of those two is Andrew. The next day, Andrew introduced his brother, Simon, to Jesus. So we know that Simon originally met Jesus near the Dead Sea.

    When Simon is called to leave his nets and his livelihood, his brother, Andrew has already convinced him that Jesus is the foretold Messiah. Thus, Simon literally, not figuratively, leaves his nets, as the scripture clearly states in using the term “abandoned” for the action Peter and Andrew take in Capernaum (some 70+ miles north of the Dead Sea, and many day’s journey by foot). We know because of the distance involved that the leaving of the nets was not the day after Andrew is introduced to Jesus by John the baptizer.

    We also see that Jesus is calling disciples, creating an inner circle who will be formed into the first leaders of the church. We see in the Luke 5 telling of the call of Simon that Jesus has a large crowd following him already. Jesus commandeers Simon’s boat, in order to get out into the water to use the aquatic acoustics to better address the crowd. Jesus is not calling Simon to be a lay-person of the church, one of “the crowd”, but specifically to be a leader. We see that Simon runs a large enterprise, with his brother, Andrew, and business partners, James and John, and with hired men. Obviously, Jesus is interested in the organizational skills Simon possessed.

    In order for Simon to become Peter, the rock on whom Jesus founds his church, he has to abandon his former vocation, to follow Jesus as a disciple on his journey through the Roman Province of Syria while he teaches the crowds with veiled references to the Kingdom of God (parables), and separately with down-to-earth one-on-one instructions to the inner circle.

    Jesus shows that a carpenter knows more about fishing than an actual fisherman in Luke’s account, when he instructs Simon to cast into the deep, going so far as to tell Peter where to place his craft, and which side to throw his net from. In doing so, Jesus is showing HIS provision for SIMON, not how Simon can use his talents to serve the kingdom. It can be inferred from the fact that Peter, Andrew, James, and John all leave the sinking boats and torn nets, along with the catch of historical proportions, in the hands of Zebedee (father of James and John) and the hired help, that this was in fact a financial blessing on the enterprise, that would support the families of the men, and their employees, in their extended absence.

    For the crowds, yes, Jesus was calling them to apply themselves to making the world a better place by glorifying God in their daily lives. But for the Apostles particularly, Jesus called them to change vocations. The only other Apostle whose trade is recorded in scripture, Matthew, leaves a lucrative tax collecting career to follow Jesus.

    This passage, as presented by Matthew, Mark, and Luke is not instructive to the laity, except that it proves that the Apostles receive their authority to lead the church from the founder of the church, Jesus. Why should first century subjects of Rome, a brutal and heavy handed empire, bring more scrutiny upon themselves by believing the preaching of these crazy Hebrew preachers preaching the “Euangelion” (Good News) of the Christ in direct opposition to the Euangelion of Ceasar? Because said Apostles have been directly called by that Christ, gave up EVERYTHING to follow Him, and then were given three years’ worth of instruction by Him, prior to being commissioned to take that Gospel into all the earth.

    This is not a part-time or as-you-were calling. This was a “submit to me totally” calling that is particular to the ministry. What Mark is telling the early believers is that they can trust the version of the story he’s telling, because it comes straight from the first-hand witness of the Apostles.

    Today, we can trust these same Gospels precisely because they were recorded by witnesses to the events. The provenance is irrefutable. So did these guys already know Jesus? Yes. Had they already decided to follow Him? Yes again, they did that near Jerusalem, where they met Him originally. Were they planning to abandon their business? No way to know, but we do see how Simon’s view of Jesus changes when he witnesses the miracle catch.

    When Jesus tells him to cast into the deep, Peter replies with the title that in today’s language would be “sir” in Luke 5:5, “You see, sir, we’ve been at this all night and we’ve been skunked.” After two boats are sinking under the weight of the catch, Peter addresses Jesus with a completely different title, “Depart from me, LORD, I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) So whether or not he planned to before this happened, Peter is now completely disposed to do the will of Jesus, submit to Him completely, and give up EVERYTHING to do it.

    I think this portion of the Gospel is teaching us to trust those God calls particularly into the ministry, who give up everything in service to Jesus. These ministers are the successors of the Apostles, and have been commissioned through them by Christ to continue the assignment given the first Twelve.

    I do agree with the conclusion that we are ALL called to do everything to the glory of God. Paul says precisely that directly to the congregations he planted in Corinth and Collosae. (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17) so I don’t believe there is any need to shoehorn this passage into the same theological vein.

    But keep the focus analogy, it’s a good one.

  5. Mark this is masterful you have really captured the uniqueness with which each of us is to God each other the community and how we all serve a role in his church we all have spheres of influence and little Mission fields and the typical Approach at church for authoritarian churches squelches individuality suffocates the Holy Spirit and hamstrings the best of us this is a permanent revolution that you have proposed Living Water bless you for this observation I believe this enhances the Great Commission

  6. Wow, You do have sense of keen observation.. To the fishermen Jesus did not say that he would make them carpenters.. These people already knew their vocation , Jesus was calling them to use their unique gift and talents for the kingdom of God .. I commend you.

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