I feel sorry for Zebedee. There he was, heading up the family business, and someone comes along and snaffles up his two best workers. His sons to boot! What about family loyalty? What about wasted expertise? What about providing for the rest of the clan? What about the difficulties of recruitment and retention?
Matthew 4:18-22 tells the story of the call of some of Jesus’s disciples. It seems that one minute it was business as usual, the next they were up and off. However, from John’s gospel, it seems these guys had been with Jesus previously, around the Jordan, and Judea and Jerusalem, but he’d dismissed them for a while when they returned to Galilee, and of course they’d gone back to working at their family firms.
But now here was Jesus again, and his call to follow him was instantly obeyed. And I wonder if their families felt discarded, like the fishing equipment they swiftly left behind.
When people go off and do something exciting, many of those close to them before, suddenly feel left out. Even if they thoroughly get the vision, it can be hard to be the one left behind. The cost of discipleship is not just about what you personally leave behind as you go follow Jesus wherever that takes you; the cost may be borne, and more sharply felt, by those who are now excluded from the relationship they have enjoyed with you thus far. And it is not of their choosing. Life can feel very unfair sometimes.
Was it then wrong for James and John to disappear and leave poor Zebedee with his personal and business loss? Of course not. When Jesus calls, you do right to follow him. But tread lightly, and spare a thought for those you leave behind.
And if you are the one left behind, recognise your natural feelings, but use your energy to encourage and facilitate your loved one. And take heart. Jesus does not leave anyone out of his Kingdom that wants to be a part. Whatever our stage in life, he always has something he is calling us to. When did you last stop and ask him what he wants you to do? And never be held back by the fear of what you might be leaving behind.