Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.” They left their nets immediately and followed Him. – Mark 1:17-18 (NET)
With these words of Scripture, we see the call and response of Jesus’ first disciples. This occurs as Jesus “went along the Sea of Galilee,” where “He saw Simon and Andrew… casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen)” (1:16). Repeating our thrust text, “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.’ They left their nets immediately and followed Him” (1:17-18). To these two are quickly added another two, as we read “Going on a little farther, He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother in their boat mending their nets” (1:19).
This story is also told in two of the other Gospels. In Matthew we find “As He was walking by the Sea of Galilee He saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.’ They left their nets immediately and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. Then He called them. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him” (4:18-22). We are not surprised to find Matthew offering up a bit more information than what we find in Mark, as Matthew mentions that James and John are said to be in the boat with their father at the time of their call. This adds an interesting dimension to the fact of their leaving to follow Jesus, as they are said to have left their father, with whom they were working at that moment.
Luke’s treatment of the call differs from that of Mark and Matthew. There, we find that “Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around Him to hear the word of God. He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Him” (5:1-11).
Luke’s Gospel begins with this statement: “Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. So it seems good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught” (1:1-4). This informs us that Luke is perhaps a bit more serious about his details, and that he wants his intricate details to be taken very seriously. As Luke, because of his extensive, two-part series (Luke & Acts), is considered to be more of a historian than the other Gospel writers (though this is probably up for debate, depending on what is meant when one seeks to define “history” or “historian”), it is with great interest that we read his account of the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John, noting the differences and the elaborations. There, Jesus is not merely going along or walking by the Sea of Galilee, where He sees these individuals and calls them to join Him. Rather, we have the story of Jesus preaching, His getting into Simon’s boat, the command to fish, the great catch, and the call to follow. It is here that we also learn that James and John were Simon’s business partners.
If we are surprised that Luke’s presentation is somewhat different, though not so different that it causes us any trouble, and if we hear his work as perhaps a more accurate and expanded rendering of events, then we are going to be flatly shocked when we come to the record of John’s Gospel.