As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. [from Matthew 4]
Zebedee looks around at the nets still to be mended, no sons to help with the work, employees staring at him wondering what to do next.
Then he realizes he has to go home and tell his wife. Oh dear.
“Honey, they wandered off with Jesus.”
“Jesus? That carpenter’s son they hang out with sometimes? You mean they just left their work? Well, they’ll have a lot of catching up to do when they get back tomorrow.”
“I don’t think they’re coming back tomorrow. I think they may be gone a while.”
“A while? Like a week?”
“Longer than a week? ” She is mad. She blames him, he can tell.
He blames himself. Things have always been hard with those boys. They have never been excited about the fishing biz. Zebedee inherited a boat and the love of fishing from his own father, and he has built it into something. He’s found outlets for his fish in nearby towns a bit farther from the coast. He’s made enough money to buy another boat and hire some men to help out. He’s trained those men and two of them have gone on to start their own businesses. He loves the idea of providing a service that everyone needs: good local food at a reasonable price. He sends workers to sell at the restaurants and he sells fish from a wooden table he sets up every afternoon at the docks. Women come by at the end of the day to buy whole fish or have him filet it. Every day there is product left over—some fish, an eel or two, and he packs it up for his walk home. He knows the houses and shacks, the people who have not even a shack but who have a little fire pit, and he stops to drop off something for them. From these people, generally widows with no source of income, he takes no payment but a smile and a thank you. Sometimes they have a loaf of bread they’ve made for him and he accepts their gift in trade.
Early on, Zebedee’s sons went with him on these stops and seemed to enjoy it, but as they became teens it annoyed them that their father stopped at the homes of the poor, and they began to make excuses to go on home ahead of him. Eventually, there were no excuses offered—they just left the boat at the end of the workday and headed out without their father.
Now this leaving with Jesus feels different, much more long term. They’ve been better, nicer now that they spend more time with Jesus. They knew him from school days. Jesus seems to have matured faster than James and John. Zebedee likes Jesus. A young man with morals and strength of character. Jesus often stops and talks with Zebedee at the end of the day and sometimes tries to help a little with the net mending. Jesus is terrible at mending. Even so, Zebedee continues to try to teach him, just to hear Jesus talk while they work together. He loves the things Jesus says about God. He loves what he says about justice for the poor. Zebedee’s sons listen, too. Zebedee has noticed that they have been working harder, have been more pleasant to be with, and they have begun once again to accompany Zebedee at the end of the day when he makes his walk among the homes of the poor. Sometimes he even sees James put aside particular types of fish before the sales, because certain widows love particular varieties.
Finally, Zebedee has the relationship he’s always wanted with his sons. The sons who enjoy being with him. The sons he enjoys being with. The sons who, he believes, could be real business partners with him. The sons who are turning into moral and just men.
Then, one day, this day, Jesus comes and says, “It’s time. Let’s go.” And they just follow him. They leave Zebedee with kisses but no tears. They seem so happy and excited.
And then they are gone.
Why are they so eager to go? Has he not appreciated them enough? And what about his own spiritual life? Wouldn’t he love to go have this spiritual adventure? He couldn’t get up and leave even if he wanted to. He has responsibilities—the boat, his home, his wife, his sons and daughters. The poor widows. Who would feed them all if he left?
The next day after the evening meal, Zebedee goes to see his rabbi, who is actually a friend of Jesus. The two rabbis—Jesus and rabbi Josephus—have spent long hours talking theology, dissecting ideas from the Torah, thinking about what God is like. Rabbi Josephus is a lot like Jesus, in that they are both interested in justice, and fairness, and following God.
Josephus says he wishes he could have followed Jesus, but he has a wife and children, responsibilities for a congregation, a school where he teaches the boys to read.
Zebedee agrees and names all the reasons Josephus can’t go, and all the reasons he’s needed here. If there is no local rabbi, who will perform weddings and funerals, lead the high holy days, give counsel? He talks about how God doesn’t call everyone to just up and leave work and family and go someplace for a week, a month, a lifetime.
Josephus is silent and smiles.
The words Zebedee has just spoken come back to him and to his own life.
If the nets aren’t mended, how will the workers fish? And if the fishing is abandoned, how will people eat?
It wasn’t that Jesus’ call didn’t extend to Zebedee. It’s that Zebedee was called to stay put, to mend nets, to fish.
The next day Zebedee fishes, then he sits at the dock with the workers, mending nets and talking. He misses his sons so much his chest aches. He is also more than a little envious of their adventurous calling.
Yet his own call continues. He is mending, fishing, feeding. He goes home this night to his wife and his other children. He stops along the way to share food with the widows.
Yes. Of course.
Sometimes we are left behind. For a purpose.
To pray, to work, to love, to do.
© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevier