Matthew 4:18-22 tells the beautiful story of Jesus calling two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John, to drop their fishing nets and follow him. This reading is one of the gospel stories I remember most distinctly from my childhood. Not because I liked the story—although I did enjoy it—but because something about it made me supremely uncomfortable. It always boggled my mind how quickly those men dropped everything to follow Jesus. Twice Matthew uses the phrase “at once,” suggesting that they didn’t stop to think about it for even a moment.
As a kid, I wasn’t prone to doing anything spontaneously, preferring to think things through before making my move. And so I marveled at how these brothers were able to do that. I often wondered…what else did they leave behind? Their mothers? Sisters? Were they married? Did they have other commitments? If they weren’t fishing, who was providing food for their families? All of these musings really pointed to the one question I couldn’t bring myself to ask—the question that was at the root of my discomfort with this story:
If I was one of those fishermen, and Jesus called me to follow him, would I drop everything “at once” and go? There was a part of me that always wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I just didn’t have it in me.
Have you ever felt the same way? That you might be one of those people…clinging to your fishing nets, unable to let them go and follow Jesus. What holds us back? What are the nets that we’ve become tangled up in…that tie us down and prevent us from being free to follow Jesus? It’s important to reflect on this question, for if we can’t identify these nets, we can never be free of them.
I believe the answer can be found not in where we cast our nets, but in where we cast our eyes. Imagine for a moment, you are standing on the shore. The air smells of salt and seaweed, a warm breeze flits across your skin as you drag your net along the water’s edge. Jesus approaches you and says, in a quiet yet compelling voice, “Come along with me.”
Where do you direct your gaze when Jesus speaks to you? Are your eyes cast downward, unable to look directly at His face? Do you feel too ashamed or too unworthy to look him in the eye? I believe this feeling of unworthiness can be the single biggest impediment to living a life with meaning. And it’s absolutely without foundation. God loves us and accepts us exactly the way we are. The fourth Psalm says, “O God, you have declared me perfect in your eyes.” Does this mean we’re perfect? Of course not. Only God is perfect. So what does this line from Scripture mean? Years ago I attended an evening retreat where the presenter said the following: “God has a plan and a purpose for you, and He made you exactly the way He needs to you to be.” You can disagree with that statement, feeling you have far too many flaws for God to ever want to use you for much of anything – but you’d be wrong.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” (And if you saw my garden last summer, you would know how wholeheartedly I embraced Mr. Emerson’s theory about weeds!) You may think of yourself as a useless weed, unworthy when you compare yourself to the beautiful flowers around you… but God knows who you truly are, and what you can accomplish, if you would simply drop your net and follow Him.
Psalm 139 says: “O Lord… you made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.” If God made each and every one of us so wonderfully unique and flawed and complex, why wouldn’t he want to use us for an important purpose? I believe if you stood on that seashore and told Jesus you couldn’t follow Him because you weren’t good enough, He would laugh gently and say, “Silly child, my Father made you this way for a purpose. Come… let’s see what you can do.”