Open Matthew 4:18-22.
The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. That was the book by Berelson and Lazarsfeld, published at the end of World War II. Most people are influenced by their friends, they said, so marketers should target the influencers.
Had Jesus followed their advice, he would have launched his campaign to be king in Jerusalem instead of Galilee. The Pharisees worked hard at influencing the people, so they were based in Jerusalem. The well-educated aristocratic Sadducees were also there, and they controlled the central symbol of Jewish life: the temple. Jerusalem was the headquarters of Roman power as well.
But Jesus does not follow conventional wisdom. His vision of the kingdom cannot grow from the A-list of Jewish society. He doesn’t choose people with political connections. He doesn’t even choose well-schooled lawyers who’ve spent their lives studying the Torah.
Jesus chooses Galilean fishermen who spend their nights and days hauling fish and mending nets. In Jesus’ time, there were some 20 ports around the Sea of Galilee, so fishermen were commonplace. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are household names today, but no one in their world knew who they were beyond a few friends, family, and fishmongers.
They weren’t rich, powerful, educated, or influential. They were ordinary people, working hard to keep the nets in good repair so they could look after their families. These were the people Jesus chose, promising that he would give them influence with people (4:19).
Already, it looks like Jesus is building a different kind of kingdom. Kingdoms have always been hierarchies: a few powerful people at the top, all the way down to the many powerless ones at the bottom. Jesus inverts the wisdom of the world, to make a grass-roots kingdom. The way the world operates, people strive to gain more goods, more gold, more glory. The competition for power drives so much evil. Jesus envisions a world where people stop building their own little kingdoms and work for a different goal: communal life with God as king.
So that’s what he asks the fishermen to do: to follow him, with his vision of restoring God’s kingdom. Instantly, Peter and Andrew dropped their nets to follow Jesus with his vision (4:20).
Did you get that? Taking on Jesus’ kingdom vision means relinquishing our own vision of building our own kingdom. It’s a radical change of direction. A change of purpose. Life has a different goal. Following Jesus means living for something greater.
In case we missed the point, Matthew repeats it. Jesus calls James and John. These guys also took on Jesus’ kingdom vision in place of their own: “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (4:22).
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already made the choice to put Jesus’ kingdom vision first, as the goal of your life. It’s a no-brainer. Why waste your life competing with everyone, when we could enjoy caring for each other the way God deigned us to? The things that matter — love, peace, and joy — can only come when we are liberated from selfishness and oppression, released into God’s gracious reign.
You can’t enforce that kind of kingdom from the top down. It has to be ordinary people — you and me — following Jesus as his community. He’s a different kind of king, calling us to a different kind of kingdom. He lived his kingdom vision, living (and dying) for God’s kingship.
What others are saying
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 145–147:
It is significant that his first recorded action is to gather a group of followers, who will commit themselves to a total change of lifestyle which involves them in joining Jesus as his essential support group for the whole period of his public ministry. …
If the announcement of “God’s kingship” in v. 17 might lead the reader to expect some dramatic development in world history, the character of these first recruits offers a different perspective: four local fishermen do not sound like a world-changing task-force. …
What Jesus issues here is not even an invitation, but rather a demand. Such a summons is more typical of a prophet than of a rabbi.
Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John (Tract. in ev. Joan.) 7.17:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to break the necks of the proud, did not seek the orator by means of the fisherman, but by the fisherman He gained the emperor. … No noble was chosen in the first place, no learned man, because God chose the weak things of the world that He might confound the strong.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel according to St Matthew, Homily 14.3:
Mark both their faith, and their obedience. For though they were in the midst of their work (and ye know how greedy a thing fishing is), when they heard His command, they delayed not, they procrastinated not, they said not, “let us return home, and converse with our kinsfolk,” but “they forsook all and followed,” even as Elisha did to Elijah. Because such is the obedience which Christ seeks of us, as that we delay not even a moment of time, though something absolutely most needful should vehemently press on us.