The Discipleship of Zebedee

While studying the Sabbath School lesson initiating this quarter’s topic on discipleship I read how each respondent was ‘called’ and immediately responded to the call from Jesus. I particularly noticed certain persons’ callings and their responses.

Andrew and Phillip witnessed immediately before clearly following Jesus. I assume that Jesus considered this witnessing to be an act of following. Each responded immediately, Andrew bringing his brother Simon Peter John 1:40-42 (KJV) and Phillip bringing Nathanael. Jesus affirmatively recognized these men’s witness, extending the call to both Peter and Nathanael, noting that Nathanael was a man without guile. Jesus explained that he knew Nathanael John 1:43-50 (KJV) because he had earlier seen him under the fig tree. We don’t know what he saw Nathanael doing but we can surmise that Nathanael was doing something indicating honesty and that Nathanael thought Jesus could not possibly have seen or heard what happened.

Levi, the tax collector, Mark 2:13-15 (KJV) also “jumped to his feet” and immediately followed Jesus upon His bidding. Interestingly, the tax collector clearly had zero settling of accounts necessary before answering the call of Jesus. Like Nathanael, Levi was clearly without guile and honest. I remember Zacchaeus who searched for Jesus and clearly wished to follow Jesus. But Zacchaeus was guilty of collecting more that the Jewish ethics and morals permitted. Zacchaeus confessed to Jesus that he had some settling to do and Zacchaeus quickly settled accounts with those he had cheated.

The Roman government contracted with collectors to send to Rome a specified amount of taxes. The Roman government did not issue non-Roman citizens a specified amount or percentage to pay in taxes. Rome merely contracted with collectors to send a specified amount and permitted collectors to assess individuals any amount the collector chose to. What Jewish customs and laws defined as excessive was legal according to Roman law. So Zacchaeus had not collected illegal amounts. But on his conversion Zacchaeus felt compelled to make right as a Jew what he had collected over and above what Jewish custom defined as excessive. Jewish laws did not apply to anyone at this time but spiritual ethics and morals did. Luke 19:2-9 (KJV) 

Interestingly, Levi had performed as tax collector according to both Roman law and to Jewish ethics and moral standards. He had not collected in excess. His fellow Jews didn’t credit Levi with any higher morality that any of his fellow tax collectors. Levi was hated by his fellow Jews equally to their hatred of all the unethical and immoral collectors. We see this in the verse that describes the guests and the party Levi threw in his immediate witness to Jesus. These guests were fellow tax collectors and other wicked men, some of whom the verse says followed Jesus. Despite the evil reputation of Levi, Jesus called him to be among his closest disciples because Levi practiced purity in a profession known to be infested with wicked practitioners. Like Andrew and Phillip, Levi immediately followed and successfully witnessed.

The call that troubled me was that of James and John. Mark 1:19-20 (KJV) Both immediately responded and followed Jesus. But was their father Zebedee called? If not, why not? And if called, did he reject the call. I didn’t see a ready explanation.

Then, however, I read the teacher’s quarterly. The author did not directly answer this question. But thankfully, I found the answer. The author reminded us that for two years the disciples were part-time followers until Jesus finally called them to follow permanently. I could not readily separate the 2 callings, one to part-time and the other to a permanent calling. But I did recall that periodically the gospels show the disciples back home fishing. One of verses studied shows Peter stunned Luke 5:3-11 (KJV) by the huge haul of fish that Jesus directed them to. Peter recognized even more so that Jesus was the Messiah and that he himself was a sinner.

So knowing that there were two callings, I realized that when Jesus told his disciples to be sure of their response, to count the cost Luke 14:26-30 (KJV) , that they had in fact spent countless hours with their families ‘counting the cost.’ I can imagine Peter who was married discussing for many hours this calling with his wife. Peter wasn’t a hothead like James and John. He may have subsequently cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, but that was an act of loyalty. Time and again Peter declared his loyalty to Jesus. Earlier in the evening that he cut off the ear he pleaded for Jesus to wash his entire body because if washing the feet demonstrated his loyalty he wanted to demonstrate his whole heart and mind and body loyalty. Peter was loyal and loving to his wife and did not wish to hurt her. I’m convinced that Peter’s wife demonstrated her following of Jesus when she gave her OK for Peter, her loving husband, to spend most of his remaining life working away from home for Jesus.

And Peter also discussed this choice with his business partner Zebedee. More importantly, Zebedee’s son’s James and John discussed their intention to follow Jesus permanently with their father Zebedee. They all agreed it was worth the cost. Zebedee performed his part in following Jesus by agreeing to release his partner and sons from the family business. Zebedee demonstrated his choice to follow Jesus by hiring non-family men to replace his sons and business partner in the business. Zebedee demonstrated his faith immediately because we see that he had already hired helpers when Jesus called the final time for permanent discipleship. I can see Zebedee as his lifts arm with raised thumb toward his sons, his partner, and Jesus as they leave the ‘fish’ fishing business for the last time. Zebedee was in full agreement and in his own way an active follower of Jesus. Zebedee was called, and Zebedee demonstrates as he remains with the boat with his hired men that he accepted in the affirmative the call of Jesus.