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The Calling

by Tim O'Hearn

Have you ever known a truly contrary person? Not just one who disagrees with everything you say. The type that can say something, and you have to disagree even if you know it is true. If he says the sky is blue, you say it is green. If he says it is day, you feel you have to say night, even though you know the sun is shining. There are such people. Fortunately, the Teacher was not one of those. Perhaps some of us didn’t realize this quality until a time shortly after we joined his entourage. (Well, we were examples, too, but just didn’t realize it.)

One day we went for a walk along the Sea of Galilee. There was nothing unusual about that. When you live in Capernaum, some of the most relaxing walks are along the shore. Besides, the beach tends to be wide enough in most places for a crowd, and when the Teacher was doing just that, we followed as a crowd.

Anyway, we were walking along the beach, and passing a number of fishermen. That’s the other thing about Capernaum. Much of the economy involves fishing. Generally, fishing on the sea is done using cast nets. These large, weighted nets are carefully folded, and then cast over the side of a boat. The fishermen can then close the nets and take whatever comes up. Usually they catch and sell tilapia, mullet, barbel, and carp. The sea also has catfish, but we can’t eat these bottom dwellers, which may be another reason for using cast nets. Because the nets are so important to their livelihood, fishermen spend much time each day mending their nets.

One more thing should be mentioned about the fishing industry; it was owned by the government. The Romans, through the king, would charge up to fifty percent as a tax for a fishing license. Most of the time this was paid in kind. The fishermen, or fishing cooperatives, could sell the rest locally. If they were really ambitious, they might even get a contract to supply to the Roman government. Most of what was caught in Capernaum would end up in the processing plants in Magadan, a little farther south. There it was sometimes salted, sometimes turned into a sauce. Amphorae containing Galilee fish were sold all over the Roman world, but were especially sold in Jerusalem, where Galilee was the main source of fish products.

As we walked along that day, the Teacher passed a number of fishermen. Suddenly he stopped, and watched a pair of brothers casting their nets near the shore. This is when we first noticed his power of command. He simply said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He spoke in a language they understood, but promised something new. And they dropped their nets, came ashore, and followed along with us. These men were the brothers Simon and Andrew.

Farther along the beach, we came upon a fishing cooperative. (Later we found that the first two were part of this group, cousins in fact.) The Zebedee cooperative was apparently very successful, because they were able to hire day-laborers to handle the heavy work. The sons of the firm Zebedee and Sons, were mending their nets, until the Teacher asked them to come. To their father’s amazement, they handed the nets to the hirelings and walked away from their source of income. All at a word from the Teacher.

A few days later, we were again on the beach. It was tax day, and the revenuers were out. This meant the mood on the shore was not pleasant, because the fishermen did not like giving up half of what they had taken. As we walked along, some could hear the Zebedee group complaining about the tax men. “A bunch of cheats. Roman toadies. Traitors to the Jewish people.” We were passing one of these men, a certain Levi, son of Alphaeus. The Teacher simply said, “Follow me.” Levi turned to one of his assistants and said, “Take over.” Then he got up and left the tax table, never to return. James and John might have been ready to object, but the Teacher just looked at them and they hung their heads.

Maybe that is why he called the Zebedee cooperative and passed up other fishermen. They were ready to drop everything to listen to the Teacher.