How Did Zebedee Feel?

This past Sunday at Journey Church Joplin, Pastor Matt spoke about our willingness to follow Christ. He took his message from the passage of scripture about where Jesus calls his first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Matthew 4:18-22 captures this moment when Christ’s upside-down kingdom begins.

You see, these four fishermen were working and their Rabbi walks up to them and calls them to follow him. In that culture, the young men who were the best and brightest asked a rabbi if they could follow him and learn from him. Here was Jesus, finding his own men who were definitely not the best and brightest by the world’s standards.

These were working men. Please don’t let that escape you. These men, who have the front row seat to the most important events in the history of the world, were working. They were not complaining that they missed out on studying under a rabbi or waiting for someone to see their great potential. They were in an established career. James and John were even a part of the family business when Jesus walks up to them and says “follow me”.

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew record the responses of Peter and Andrew, and James and John. The left immediately when Jesus called them and they followed Him. James and John even left their father Zebedee in the boat mending the nets.

In the middle of this amazing story about immediate obedience to Christ, my mind wonders about Zebedee. How did he feel?

There is no doubt in my mind that Zebedee knew things were changing in that part of Galilee. Andrew had already been following John the Baptist. It is in John 1:40 that at John the Baptist’s instruction that Andrew starts following Jesus and reports to his brother Peter that he thinks he has found the Messiah. Luke 5:10 reports that James and John worked with Peter, so one can make some logical assumptions that Zebedee knew who Jesus was. I can only imagine Zebedee sitting in his boat with his sons mending nets. He had to be proud that his boys who had joined the family business after all of the commotion that John the Baptist was creating in that area.

With as much as we read in scripture about the disciples being on the water and fishing, you know that Zebedee’s sons were good, hardened fishermen. They understood the sea after being taught by their father. Zebedee knew that fishing was a profession that could provide his sons with a good living and he trained his sons well.

Isn’t that what any parent wants for his or her child? Find something you are good at and make a living from it. How then must it have felt when this Jesus character walks up, calls to your sons, and they drop their nets and follow him?

Zebedee had to feel anger and confusion. He had to think that they were throwing away their lives- wasting the God given talent they had been given. A feeling of abandonment had to be there as well. What about rejection? Is fishing not good enough for you? How was he going to keep his business going if they were gone? Or did Zebedee just see Jesus and know? Did he know that this was the Messiah and that his sons were fulfilling a calling from the Word of God made flesh?

Somehow, I want to think that Zebedee felt all of these things. He felt the rejection and confusion, but still knew that Jesus was the Messiah. You read later on in scripture (like in Mark 15:40 and 16:1) that James and John didn’t follow Jesus on their own. Their mom, Salome, was one of the women who ministered to Jesus and the disciples. I hope that seeing those texts in scripture mean that Zebedee understood and believed in Jesus too.

Yet my heart wants to know, was Zebedee proud of his sons? When did he move past the confusion with his sons and the uncomfortable conversations with his friends? You know, those well-meaning friends who say “what are the boys up to now?”. How long did Zebedee hem and haw around with answer, struggling with what to say?  Did he respond, “Well, they are following that Jesus guy. It may just be a phase. I am sure they will be back to fishing in a year or two. They just need to figure out life right now.”

How and when did it change? When that question was asked, when did Zebedee respond in pride with “They are part of the twelve, you know Jesus’ select disciples. Did you know that he hand-picked my sons right here, on my boat? You should see how Jesus has transformed their lives. Their mom keeps telling me about all of the miraculous things Jesus keeps doing and even that they are doing. God is working and they are a part of it. One of these days I hope one of my sons writes all of this stuff down,”.

Why am I so caught up with Zebedee? Well, you see, I too am not the best and brightest in comparison to a Bible scholar. I am just a teacher and the daughter of one of the most talented teachers in the state. I too received a call from Christ to leave the profession of my family and follow Him.

I know it doesn’t make any sense to leave something I have been trained to do all my life. I too see my family shaking their heads, still knowing and believing God, but practically knowing how hard this call can and will be. Just like I really want Zebedee to see the higher calling for his sons, I hope my family can see my calling. I hope that they can see that I am not rejecting them or the time and money they spent on my education, but I hope that they can see my heart for Jesus.

Jesus came up to me and asked me to follow Him. It isn’t that I love my family less, it is that I am finally learning to love Jesus more.

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