Two kilometers west of Capernaum. a stream of warm water swirls around my feet and spills into the Sea of Galilee. This is Tabgha (“Seven Springs”), where a lush oasis covers the shoreline. Freshwater springs, fed by snow melt from Mount Hermon, gush from the hillside or well up from rocks. Near this spot Jesus preached, healed, and fed five thousand.
The Gospels say that when Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed. Continuing a little farther, Jesus found brothers James and John in a boat, preparing nets. “Come, follow me!” The two abandoned their boat and their father Zebedee and joined the rambling band following the carpenter’s son.
If there is a probable place where Jesus called these fishermen, it is at these bubbling springs. Fish have eternally gathered by Tabgha’s warmth at this corner of the Sea of Galilee, making these waters ideal for fishing. Even today sportsmen with fishing rods perch on rocks ahead of me to cast their lines. Peter, Andrew, James and John probably washed their nets in natural pools of flowing water that Tabgha creates.
Here where the Lord called disciples, I remember my own experience of Jesus’ summons. I heard the call when a visiting preacher gave the invitation. Much as I now might raise questions about the emotionalism and guilt of old time revival meetings, I am grateful that I can look back on a definitive moment of commitment, and I want to extend Jesus’ invitation to others.
I have learned that the call to follow Jesus comes at multiple times throughout life, as happened with Peter. Somewhere near Tabgha, after the agony and miracle of Passion Week, Jesus met Peter who had returned to fishing (John 21). Having failed to make a single catch after a nighttime of trying, Peter suddenly had 153 fish when a stranger on shore told him to cast nets on the other side.
Buck naked when he realized the stranger was Jesus, the fisherman pulled on clothes and rushed to shore. Words Jesus spoke resound in my ears: “Come have breakfast. . . Peter, do you love me? . . . Feed my sheep . . . Feed my lambs. . .” Then Jesus added something somber: “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
Thus Jesus summoned the big fisherman to a lifetime of discipleship, ongoing ministry, and finally death that will include martyrdom and/or physical disability. That’s daunting, and I wonder what such an all-encompassing call means for me. I find comfort and strength in words the risen Christ spoke in Galilee, as recorded by Matthew (28:20): “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”