TRANSLATION Matthew 4:18
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Petros and Andreos his brother throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Strait away they left their nets and followed him. As he went on from there, he saw another two brothers, Iakob the son of Zebedee and Ionannes his brother in a boat with Zebedee their father, sorting their nets, and he called them. Strait away they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Obviously this is not a plain description of Jesus’ recruitment style. People do not behave like this. It is a piece of magical realism, demonstrating the irresistible appeal of Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, and the recklessness of the fishermen’s response. Of course he must have known them and they him but Matthew, relying on his source Mark, wants to reveal the deeper reality of what happened. “Come after me” is the language for discipleship of a Rabbi.
Fishermen need to make a catch, and this necessity is made an image of Jesus’ ministry of catching people for the Rule of Heaven. In the Bible the image of catching in a net, as in the Psalms, is usually negative – their nets are broken and we have escaped (Ps 124)- but here the net is a metaphor for God’s persuasive craft in Jesus. In the logic of magical realism it’s possible, even likely, that some of Jesus’ original followers were fishermen, but we cannot be certain. For Mark and Matthew the uncanny compulsion of Jesus’ call to discipleship is the point.
1. To translate the Greek eutheos, (immmediately,), I have used the Scots “strait away” which is more urgent.
2. Fishermen work on the sea, which for the gospel writers was an image of trouble, threat and chaos. These men however are not afraid of it. Jesus needs people who are not scared of chaos of the world and are ready to catch people for the peace and order of God’s Rule.