I came across a piece of art recently that puzzled me.
I recognized it immediately as a depiction of the miraculous catch of fish, a passage which I have analyzed exhaustively in the last year with InterVarsity. I knew the passage had great things to say about mission and devotion, depth and trust, selection and evangelism. But this depiction caught my eye. The bizarre femininity of two of the figures confused me, as did the inclusion of a character I didn’t recognize. Until my curiosity lead me to Google, I didn’t recognize it as a reproduction of a Raphael. Thanks to it being famous, I can share it with you:
That’s clearly Jesus with the prominent halo and long hair. By him is Peter, who fell to his knees in Luke 5:8, Saint Andrew his brother, and James and John in the other boat who were “called over” to help them in verse 7.
But why are there 3 disciples there?
Also, Why don’t they have shirts on?
Raphael is usually pretty good with this sort of thing, so I figured I must be missing something. I thought maybe he was depicting the other great catch found in John 21, or harmonizing the two somehow as biblical literalists like to do.
But no, John includes 7 disciples Peter, Nathaniel, Thomas, James and John the sons of Zebedee, and two mystery disciples. Also in that passage Jesus is clearly on the shore, and Peter isn’t afraid (to say the least) it has to be a second occurrence of the same miracle.
It turns out the anonymous oarman is Zebedee himself. Matthew 4 records it
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
There is no miracle here in Matthew but unlike John, it makes sense to harmonize this passage with Luke and assume Zebedee was in the boat the whole time. After all, in Luke we never get names for the occupants of the other boat until after they leave, Zebedee didn’t leave.
He just sat there.
Look at him.
With his little oar.
Thinking about this has brought new life for me into what had become a very familiar passage.
At one of the most dramatic moments of Jesus ministry. with the help of an undeniable demonstration of divine power. Jesus, the son of God, reached a success rate of about 70%. (or a C-)
What was Zebedee thinking? How did he completely miss what was so blatantly obvious to Peter? Is there really nothing at all that would have convinced him?
As you go out to minister in your workplaces and communities, who are the Zebedees in your life? The little clingers that hang around but don’t get involved. How much of your energy goes into including them? How many people have tried and failed?
Is there a Peter at your feet begging for direction, reassurance, and discipleship? Are you ignoring him in favor of a diplomatic obligation of someone who never did and never would receive what you are offering?
Cutting your losses is biblical.