The Curious Case of Father Zebedee

Mark 1:19-20 ESV  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

It’s always been quite amazing to hear of how willing the fishermen were to leave their nets and ‘immediately’ follow Jesus when He called to them.

But one thing that has always been quite curious is the mention of Zebedee, the father of James and John. Jesus calls the two brothers, they go, and the dad is left standing in the boat with the hired servants.

What on earth was old Zebedee thinking when all this happened? How come he didn’t protest? Why didn’t he go with them? Why tell us at all about him if you’re going to tell us nothing about him?

So allow me to imagine one scenario:

They’re busy catching fish and old Zebedee says, “Hey James, you tore your net again, didn’t you? How many times do I have to tell you… Cast, don’t drop! Put some energy into it! Why you so lembik? What kind of casting is that? And John, stop slacking around, boy! Reel in that line — you better wake up your idea. Later you grow up and become rubbish collector, you know! Move it — pull, pull, pull! You two boys are always bumming around. How are we going to get enough to buy mum that new oil lamp she’s always nagging us about, har? You think what… denarii just come out of fishes’ mouths is it??”

Then suddenly then they hear a voice calling from shore: “James, John, come follow me!” The two boys look at each other: “Yes! Amen, praise the Lord, Christ has come to set us free, no longer we are subject to this yoke of tyranny — Bye Dad!” And old Zebedee is just left standing there with the servants, holding the nets…

Well maybe it could have been like that. But perhaps it could have been quite the opposite as well — since clearly Zebedee’s wife is very interested in the welfare of the boys:

Matthew 20:20-21  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

These seem like extreme Asian parents, wanting their sons to be better than anyone else. It’s quite hard to see Zebedee as a disinterested father. So why is it that he let the boys go when Jesus called?

Could it be that, being someone utterly interested in the very best for his children, he had trained the boys in the Scriptures and taught them about the coming Messiah and the kingdom; so when Jesus came and called… he knew that it was the best thing for them? Jesus asked you to follow him… so my boys… it’s time to go.

This Father’s Day, perhaps that is the kind of father all of us need. One who is faithful in training us in the Scriptures and has our true best interest at heart; he wants us desperately to follow Jesus — even at the expense of his guaranteed retirement plans. It must have cost dear old Zebedee dearly both financially and emotionally to let the boys go. Jesus says, “Follow me”, and the father says, “Yes my son/daughter, it’s time to go… God will take care of the details for the both of us… Just go”.

I hope you have a happy Father’s Day.

Pastor Dev Menon