Galilee Boat - and Following Jesus

Reading: Matthew 4.18-22
There was a major drought in Israel in 1986. The level of the Sea of Galilee dropped seriously to its lowest level in memory.

Two brothers from Kibbutz Ginnosar on the western shore were walking alongside the sea one day and happened to see some old wood sticking out of the mud.

They reported what they had seen and experts were brought in. It was soon established that they had found the remains of a very old boat which had been remarkably preserved in the mud. It was dated to have come from the first century AD.

The boat was removed with a great deal of care and placed in a tank of water where it could be further studied and specially treated to prevent further deterioration.

After a nine-and-a-half-year process the wood was stabilised to a point where the boat could be put on public display in an air-conditioned building in the Yigal Allon Centre supported by a special cradle.

An informative video tells the story of the discovery of the boat and its restoration. Posters indicate the various types of wood used in its construction and repair.

It is not known whether this 27-foot boat was used for fishing, commerce or military purposes. Dubbed by some tourist operators as "the Jesus boat", there are no good grounds for linking it with Jesus and his disciples, except that it does date from that period.

Jesus was many times in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. It was the practical means of getting from one side of the sea to the other. It also became a floating pulpit when the crowds were too great on the sea shore.

But today’s reading recounts the time when Jesus was walking beside the sea and saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the lake. Not far away, James and John, the sons of Zebedee were in a boat with their father, preparing their nets – cleaning, mending, folding them ready for casting.

From what we read in John 1.35-42, this wasn’t the first time Peter and Andrew met Jesus. Andrew had evidently been following John the Baptist and was impressed when John said of Jesus, "Look, the Lamb of God!" (v. 36) He was keen to share this great discovery with his brother Peter.

At that time, they had begun to "follow" Jesus, but were still fishermen, still maintaining their fishing business.

But now Jesus was calling them to a greater commitment of themselves – their time and their whole lives. "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4.19).

What were their lives to be? What would be involved in being "fishers of men"? Andrew had confidently said to his brother, "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1.41) – words given stronger meaning much later when Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16.16).

In Luke 5, it is clear that they have known Jesus for some time now, but were still fishing for a living. After Jesus had finished teaching the people from Simon Peter’s boat, he told Peter, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch" (v. 4).

It has been a hard night’s work with no fish to show for it. Yet Peter agrees to do what Jesus has said. The result – "When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken…" (vv. 6-9).

But Jesus reassured them, "Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men." With that, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him (vv. 10-11).

It would appear that they stilled owned their boats, for they feature later in the gospel story. But from now on, their full-time occupation was learning to be "fishers of men".

"Follow me," Jesus says. Be careful who you follow. There are many gurus, idealogues, writers, speakers… vying for our allegiance. Jesus alone is the one who can say, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14.6). Test all other claimants by him.

"Follow me," Jesus says. Be careful how you follow. Jesus isn’t looking for "fellow-travellers" who admire his life and his teaching. He seeks our whole-hearted commitment. He wants to live his life in us – loving and serving others through us.

Whatever its origin, the Galilee boat is a reminder of what those fishermen-disciples had to leave behind to follow Jesus – and a challenge to consider what may be barriers in our own lives to allowing Jesus to live his life through us.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we’re so busy! We don’t know how we can fit in one more thing! And you come along and say, "Follow me!" But you’re not asking us for "one more thing", but for everything! So that your life and love and peace can reach out through everything we do to everyone we meet. So here we are, Lord! Take us, cleanse us, heal us, renew us, use us! Amen!


It would be rather hollow
if all I did to follow
was trail along behind him -
if only I could find him!

In love he comes to reach me
because he longs to teach me
to walk my life beside him
his love in me residing.

He always knows to find me
and calls to leave behind me
the idols I’ve been raising -
my idle ways of praising.

He gave a total dying,
expects my self-denying
that in my total giving
I’ll know his inward living.

Come, Lord, you lead me on!
I know I’m not alone -
each day is fresh and new,
I’m walking it with you!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin Blue Care Devotions, 4 September 2001
More photos of Israel are available here.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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