As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were 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. (verses 18-20)
This is a decisive moment in the lives of Peter and Andrew. They will never recover.
James and John, their fishing partners, have their own moment subsequently – immediately following. They, too, will be changed forever.
This is a milestone. In Matthew’s Gospel, it’s the first time we meet these men, and it’s certainly the first time we see them interacting with Jesus. But it seems likely they have actually encountered him at least once previously. That moment is recorded for us in John 1:35-42, the moment when Simon received (from Jesus) the nickname by which we know him best: “Peter,” meaning “Rock.”
So, Jesus’ words here don’t come entirely out of the blue. These are not words from an unknown stranger. They are, however, completely abrupt and gut-wrenchingly riveting – yet, tinged with expectancy. Jesus gives these men a command, followed by a promise. He gives them something they themselves must do, followed by something that he alone can do for them.
“Come, follow me.” This is the command into which they themselves must actively step. “Come” could simply be translated as “Here!” or “Come on!” It’s meant to arrest their attention, causing them to sit up and take notice. They’ve been focused on their nets and their livelihood and the possibility of reward from their labour that very day. You can almost imagine the abruptness of Jesus’ opening word causing them to startle, lose their footing and drop their nets. But the word is meant to do more than startle. It calls them to move forward, beckoning them: “Come hither,” “Come here.” This is something to step into.
The second word in the phrase isn’t actually a verb (“action word”) at all – it simply provides a context for the movement of the first command. This word means “behind” or “after.” “Come … after.”Fall in line behind me, is what Jesus is saying. He’s captured their attention and he intends now to keep it. They’re to focus eyes on Jesus and get in step behind him, not straying from his forward movement, but following closely.
There are so many places this command will take them – healing of bodies and souls, care for the poor, washing one another's feet, to name a few. But the first thing Jesus has in mind is evangelism – sharing good news. This is how Jesus himself started his ministry, by proclaiming good news: “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Now he focuses these first disciples on the same – capturing people alive into the kingdom.
“I will send you out to fish for people,” Jesus says. He’d given the command to “come … after.” This, now, is the promise. Peter and Andrew might have been tempted to take it as a weighty responsibility, dumped on them. Would they be up to the task? Could they manage? (Did they fret?)
But the statement is actually a promise. What Jesus literally says is: “I will make you fishers of people.” Don’t miss the beginning of that phrase: “I will make.” It’s a promise of transformation. Jesus is the one who’s going to do it. Yes, the goal is clear – Peter and Andrew (and subsequently, James and John) have a new calling on their lives. But Jesus is committing himself to ongoing transformation in the core of their being. He’s equipping them for effective salvation work. These fishermen are going to start making catches for all eternity.
These same words are given to us. Command and promise. Abrupt, riveting, yet filled with expectancy.
Come … after … I will make you fishers.
Lord Jesus, keep my eyes on you. Help me walk in your paths. And make me, more and more, to be one of your fishers. Amen.
Reflect: Jesus’ command is to “come after,” keeping eyes on him. How are you doing? His promise is: “I will make you fishers” – ask him to continue his work.