Jesus Calls People at Work (Luke 5:1-11; 27-32)
Twice Jesus goes to people’s workplaces to call them to follow him. The first is when Jesus gets some fishermen to interrupt their work and let him use their boat as a podium. Then he gives them some excellent fishing tips and suddenly calls them to become his first disciples (Luke 5:1-11). The second is when he calls Levi, who is at his work of collecting taxes (Luke 5:27-32). These people are called to follow Jesus by leaving their professions. We tend to think of them as full-time church workers, but full-time “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) would be a more accurate description. Although these individuals are called to a particular kind of work in Jesus’ kingdom, Luke isn't saying that some callings (e.g., preaching) are higher than others (e.g., fishing). Some of Jesus’ followers—like Peter, John, and Levi—follow Jesus by leaving their current employment (Luke 5:11). We will soon meet others—such as Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-41), another tax collector named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and a Roman military officer (Luke 1-10)—who follow Jesus by living transformed lives in their present occupations. In one case (Luke 8:26-39), Jesus commands a person not to leave his home and travel around with him.
Those who travel with Jesus apparently cease wage-earning work and depend on donations for provision (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-24). But this is not a sign that the highest form of discipleship is to leave our jobs. It is a specific call to these individuals and a reminder that all our provision is from God, even if he typically provides for us through conventional employment. There are many models for following Christ in our various occupations.
For more about Jesus’ calling of the disciples, see "Mark 1:16-20" in Mark and Work and "Matthew 3-4" in Matthew and Work at www.theologyofwork.org. For more about calling in general, see the article Vocation Overview at www.theologyofwork.org.
Besides appearing in workplaces, Jesus also sets many of his parables in workplaces, including the parables of the new patches/wineskins (Luke 5:36-39), the wise and foolish builders (Luke 6:46-49), the sower (Luke 8:4-15), the watchful servants (Luke 12:35-41), the wicked servant (Luke 12:42-47), the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19), the yeast (Luke 13:20-21), the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-19). Workplaces are where Jesus turns when he wants to say, “The kingdom of God is like…” These passages are not generally meant to teach about the workplaces in which they are set, although sometimes they do provide a bit of workplace guidance. Rather, Jesus uses familiar aspects of workplaces primarily to make points about God’s kingdom that transcend the parables’ particular settings. This suggests that ordinary work has great significance and value in Jesus’ eyes. Otherwise it would make no sense to illustrate God’s kingdom in workplace terms.