In telling us this story, the gospel writers seem to assume that we, the readers, are conversant with the drama of the disciple-picking event. They seem to assume we know this leaving of the nets was no instant decision, but that it had been discussed, proposed, pondered. And now the thinking became actionable. Peter and the others enter the rabbinical contract.
In the times that followed, Peter's rogue opinions and impulsive behaviors appear to vindicate his original opinion of himself. He was no "rock" in those early days, and most of us—had we been the rabbi—would probably have offloaded him at the first opportunity.
Jesus' next decision to call both Matthew, a tax collector, and Simon, a Zealot, is stunning when you think about it. These two men easily could have killed each other! Their political positions were as different as those of Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh.
The 12 Jesus picked were diverse in their personalities, backgrounds, and expectations. Few of us would dare to put these people in the same room together, much less anticipate depth from them.
How Do You Deepen a Disciple?
So how did Jesus deepen these men? Three answers: emulation, information, and examination.
The disciples of a rabbi sought to mimic everything about their mentor. What did he think? How did he talk? How did he eat? Disciples desired to be flawless copies of their rabbi. They believed that the rabbi was the incarnation of the Torah, and they, in turn, wished for others to see the example of the rabbi in them. Now we can understand Paul when he says: "I want to know Christ… becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10).
The rabbi might teach in the Temple area, but rabbis often taught away from a classroom and out on the roads, in the fields, at the marketplace, and on the lake shore. Everything in ordinary life became an illustration of the rabbi's teaching; most everything was taught in story form or in riddles and proverbs designed to make a point and challenge the disciple's mind. Rabbis were unafraid to leave conclusions up in the air. Even Jesus tells stories with no obvious application, allowing his disciples to interpret and come to understanding on their own.
Rabbis provided times of testing. Think of Jesus' ministry: the storm, feeding the 5000, the betrayal in the garden. All times of testing. You can hear Jesus, say, "Where is your faith?" when the storm is quieted. "You give them something to eat," he demands pointing to the crowd. "You're all going to forsake me," he predicts. There were also rebukes: "Get behind me, Satan." And questions: "What were you discussing when I wasn't there?" And assignments: "He sent them to preach the kingdom of God…"
Rabbis are not necessarily nice guys. They constantly raise the bar on their disciples. They are not reluctant to open up their own lives; they know how to poke into the inner space of their disciples; they know how to bring out the best in others. So, be prepared to face the difficult areas of your life as well as the habits or personality traits that need to be dissected and changed.
When the rabbi decided the contract had been fulfilled, he discharged his disciples. Again, Jesus said: "You're servants no longer; you're friends." "It's best for you that I go away." "You're going to do more than I've done." "Love one another as you've been loved." "Get out into the world and replicate yourselves by teaching what I've taught you."