Mark 1:16–20. Fishing for People

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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Where's Your Name?

“When you go to work, if your name is on the building, you’re rich. If your name is on your desk, you’re middle-class. If your name is on your shirt, you’re poor.” (Attributed to comedian Rich Hall.)

From the Frontlines: Multiple Callings

In my work as a gear-maker, I left the family business for a time as Jesus called me away. But I never stopped being a machinist, and eventually God called me back to the family business for kingdom work. (David Hataj)

My father started his working life as a chemist for a large company. When he became a pastor, because he had training and expertise in management, he tried to use his managerial skills to improve the way the church organized its ministry. His whole life exercised a continuity for the kingdom. I see the same in my own work, as I use my training in library and information science to be a more effective pastor. (Jennifer Woodruff Tait)

See also Jesus calling the disciples in Matthew 4:18–21 and Luke 5:1–11.

The first people Jesus calls to follow him are fishermen (Mark 1:16). As Jesus walks along the seashore, he calls these fishermen specifically to fish “for people” (Mark 1:17). As Suzanne Watts Henderson notes, “not just nets are left behind, but a named father, a boat and indeed an entire enterprise.”[1] These fishermen were leaving what appears to be a successful family business. For these disciples to follow Jesus, they have to allow their identity, status, and worth to be determined in relation to Jesus rather than to their occupation and possessions.

Fishing was a major industry in Galilee, with a connected subindustry of fish salting.[2] At a time of social turbulence in Galilee, these two related industries supported each other and remained stable. The willingness of the disciples to forsake such stability is remarkable.

There is another side to the story, however. Even when Jesus calls these disciples to fish for people (Mark 1:17), he affirms their occupation as an image of the new role to which he is calling them. And in fact, Jesus uses their fishing and boating skills continually: to help him get around (i.e., Mark 4:35–41, Matthew 8:23–27), as a platform for speaking to crowds (i.e., Luke 5:1–11), and as a means of feeding Jesus’ followers (also seen in Luke 5:1–11). The fact that they still had access to boats while they followed Jesus may imply they had not completely abandoned their businesses. Peter will even go fishing after the Resurrection (John 21:3).

Although most Christians are not called to leave their jobs, and many are called to stay in them (Luke 3:7–14), they are called to ground their identity in Christ and his kingdom (see “Calling & Vocation (Overview)”). Whether Christians leave their jobs or not, our most important identity becomes “follower of Jesus.” Being open to Christ’s call to follow him as the supreme authority of our lives and work rather than some other political or economic authority is paramount.