Two kilometers west of Capernaum, a stream of warm water swirls around my feet and spills into the Sea of Galilee. This is Tabgha (“Seven Springs”), where a lush oasis covers the shoreline. Warm water gushes from the hillside and wells up from rocks, making this corner of the sea attractive to both fish and fishermen. Probably it was near here that Jesus taught multitudes from a boat, fed a crowd of 5,000 and summoned fishermen.
The Gospels say Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed. Continuing a little farther, Jesus found brothers James and John in a boat, preparing nets. “Come, follow me!” The two abandoned their boat and their father Zebedee and joined the band following the carpenter’s son.
Here where the Lord called disciples, I remember my own experience of Jesus’ summons. I heard the call when a visiting “revival” preacher gave an invitation. Much as I now might raise questions about the function and theology of those old-time meetings, I am grateful that I can look back on a definitive moment of commitment. I want to extend Jesus’ invitation to others.
I have learned that the call to follow Jesus comes repeatedly throughout life, as happened with Peter. Somewhere near Tabgha, after the agony and miracle of Passion Week, Jesus met Peter who had returned to fishing (John 21). Having failed to make a single catch after a nighttime of trying, Peter suddenly had 153 fish when a stranger on shore told him to cast nets on the other side.
Realizing the stranger was Jesus, the fisherman pulled on clothes and rushed ashore. Words Jesus spoke resound in my ears: “Come have breakfast. . . . Peter, do you love me? . . . Feed my sheep. . . . Feed my lambs.” Then Jesus added this somber note: “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
Thus Jesus summoned the big fisherman to a lifetime of discipleship, ministry and finally death through martyrdom or physical disability. That’s daunting, and I wonder what such an all-encompassing call would mean for me.
Comfort and strength to live into a long faithfulness come from words the risen Christ spoke in Galilee, as recorded by Matthew: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
J. Nelson Kraybill is president of Mennonite World Conference and president emeritus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. See more writing and information about his upcoming tours to Israel-Palestine at peace-pilgrim.com.