Today’s reading is Luke 5:1-11
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
If you are a Christian, this scene is probably very familiar to you. It is often quoted in sermons to make various points, but it is more often than not the disciples’ obedience that is highlighted, how they “left everything and followed [Jesus].” Today I want to shift our attention from the agents of these actions—the disciples, to the recipients—their families and friends.
I do not intend to describe historically documented responses of the three disciples’ families and friends who were suddenly left behind—not only do I lack the knowledge of such details, but that also is not the point of this piece. Rather, I want to illustrate how they might have felt toward Jesus, toward the disciples, and toward themselves, reflecting on my own experience as a child of a pastor-turned-missionary, in order that we might better understand how as Christians, we can process such significant change in our lives.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He already had a lot of followers—people were crowding around him so tightly that He had to get on a boat in order to teach them properly. They believed that He was speaking the word of God, and though there is no biblical evidence that the disciples’ families and friends were also part of the crowd, I believe it may be safe to assume so, given that Jesus was the talk of the town.
When my dad first told our family that he felt called to become a missionary after our daily home worship four years ago, I was a Pastor’s Kid down to my bones. I was born into a pastor’s family and had been raised in the church my entire life. I thought I knew who Jesus was and I had faith and confidence in the Almighty God, who loved me so much that He sent His one and only son to die for my sins. But when my dad, having come to a conclusion on his own, announced his plans, I felt…well, many things, that I have only recently been able to face and process.
My dad, though a pastor his entire adult life and therefore a “disciple” in pretty much every sense, had always been around. Super busy, but still with me. And I took comfort in knowing that he was close by, even if I could not see him for a day or two. But his becoming a missionary abroad would be a completely different thing. He would no longer physically be with me. He would literally leave everything he had behind—his work, home, family, and friends, in order to follow Jesus.
The first responses I had to this were skepticism and confusion. Was he really called to become a missionary? What about the church? What about us, his family? Would God really want him to leave everything behind?
I felt betrayed by his decision, essentially by my dad, who made that decision. I could not understand how he could just abandon everything and decide to go elsewhere. What were we supposed do without an income? Where were we supposed to live? How were we supposed to feed ourselves? How were my sister and I supposed to go to college? Did he even think through what his decision implied for the future of our family? Did it not matter to him that my life, my whole future, had a huge potential to crumble because of it?
These realistic worries—the worries I know fully well the scriptures tell us not to worry about, were impossible ignore. How can I not worry when I might be on the streets in a few months?
But although my mom had to start working for the first time in 20 years, although we had to downsize our apartment to a one bedroom, and although I came back after school to a home crowded with unpacked furniture and belongings for two years, God proved His faithfulness over and over. We never spent a night on the streets. We never went hungry. We never went without clothes. We did not live in abundance, but we were also not in want. And God took care of my sister’s and my college finances, giving my sister a full scholarship and sending me to a school with need-based financial aid.
But even so, my question about my dad’s decision remained. How could he decide to leave literally everything? It is here where Simon and my dad overlap more clearly. When Jesus tells Simon to put down the nets in the deep water, Simon first responds with skepticism: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” My dad is also only a human. Humans doubt and challenge other people’s advice when it does not seem credible or sound. As a professional fisherman, Simon had every reason to be skeptical of what Jesus was telling him to do—who was this famous speaker, a carpenter by birth, telling him to fish at the wrong hour of the day? My dad also had many reasons to doubt his calling as a missionary. How was he supposed to abandon his flock he was caring for? Being a pastor was his calling as a young man, and he had carried it through his entire life. It just did not sound right.
Despite the reluctance, however, Simon still obeys Jesus, lets down the nets, and experiences a miracle that totally changes his outlook. Likewise, my dad must have had or recalled a personal, miraculous interchange with Jesus that awakened something in him, an awakening which, as it did for Simon, showed him who he really was: a sinner unworthy to be even near Him, much less to be part of His great plan.
Yet Jesus still called them, and in awe of Him, they could not stop to think about their—their families’—trivial worldly needs but only wholly offer themselves to His purpose. It was precisely this that I could not wrap my head around for such a long time. How could one love God so, so much, that one can leave everything that one loves behind? How was that possible? But I found out that it is possible, because God is love. How can one not understand God’s love and truly love somebody else? It was not that my dad did not care about or love our family—it was just that he loved God so much and understood His unfailing love for His people that he could not bear to see souls dying every day without knowing Him. It was just that for my dad, that was the greater calling and display of love and thankfulness to God. And I finally understood, and my pain was no more.
When someone is called to leave everything and follow Jesus, everything surrounding that person will change. It will leave one’s families and friends disoriented, the more so the closer their relationships were, regardless of whether or not they are also Christians. But this disorienting can be an opportunity for them to ask more questions and grow closer to God, just as it has brought me to a greater understanding of what it means to love God and be loved by Him. If our following Jesus makes others wonder about who this Jesus is that we dedicate our entire lives to, does that not mean we are doing our job on this earth?
Helen Kim ’18 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy and Sociology joint concentrator living in Kirkland House