In Matthew’s account of Jesus calling his first disciples (Matthew 4:20), there is immediacy in Simon and Andrew’s response to the call. Matthew exclaims, “At once they left their nets and followed him.” The disciples challenged their routine, their comfort zone, and the norm. When the disciples dropped their nets, in a way they were walking out on their company-all that they knew and were comfortable with. They left their workplace, their homes to follow what was unknown to them. However, they did it immediately—without question. The significance of this call and response cannot be overlooked. First one must come to understand the significance of “their nets.”
In 1st-century Israel and Palestine, more often than not, one did not grow up discerning what he would do with his life. If you were a fisherman, that means your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were most likely fisherman. If you had sons, they would be fishermen, too. So, in a way, the fact that these men dropped their nets and followed Jesus symbolizes their immediate surrender of their family identity. They put aside the life that was set up for them by their fathers. They renounced who they were, who they thought they always would be in order for Christ to form them into the first priests and bishops of His Church.
The disciples also gave up their livelihood. Today, especially in the United States, society has produced a stigma of “working to live.” Career comes first to many people. In many cases, getting ahead or climbing the corporate ladder take precedence over starting a family or even one’s social life. In Jesus’s time, people “worked to live.” Fishermen not only went to the sea to catch their dinner, but they tried to fill their nets so they could sell their catch. Their earnings would be able to provide clothing, food, and shelter for them and their families—not to mention paying their taxes. A fisherman would not typically be seen as someone who we see on Wall Street today. It was a “lower profession” that sometimes made just enough to get by. So when Andrew and Simon dropped their nets, they laid down their entire livelihood. They were sacrificing what kept them alive in order to receive new life, life to the fullest in Christ.
Jesus, the same Jesus that called the first disciples, is calling men today to be fishers of men. Yet today there is such hesitance in responding to the call. It is uncommon for a man to drop everything “at once” and follow the Lord’s call to enter the seminary and begin formation to the priesthood. It isn’t “normal” to drop all you have and follow Jesus into the unknown, it certainly isn’t comfortable. There are always excuses not to do something. In the movie mentioned above, Jerry singles out one co-worker to join him, but she explains that she is close to a raise and therefore won’t leave. Much like Jerry Maguire asking, “Who’s coming with me?” Jesus asks today. Will you just stare at him or will you go with him, drop your nets and follow him at once?
To see the scene from Jerry Maguire, check out this clip