As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-20
These two simple words carry the power to transform a life. It was these two words that every Jewish boy in the first century dreamed of hearing. From their earliest schooling, where the main textbook was the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, they were told that if they worked hard and became the best of the best they might one day be a Talmid, the Hebrew word for disciple. Only a few would be selected to take the next step toward becoming a Talmid. Most wouldn’t continue their education beyond age twelve. Instead, the girls would go home and learn to manage a household and the boys would apply themselves full-time to learning and practicing the family trade. The fortunate few who either had exceptional gifts or enough money to be away from the family trade received the chance to continue on to the second level of education, known as Beth Midrash. Here, the local rabbi would lead them in studying the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Even after this schooling, most of the students in Beth Midrash would eventually apply themselves full-time to learning and practicing the family trade. However, the best of the best would seek out a rabbi they admired, and ask to be allowed to follow him. The rabbi would then qualify the student by testing the student’s knowledge of the scriptures, testing his ability to follow the rabbi’s instructions, and perhaps having the student follow him around for a short period of time to get to know his character. Most of these applicants would not make the cut. The rabbi would give some kind words about their skill and commitment, and then gracefully suggest they continue in the family trade. However, for a select few, their childhood dream would come true. The rabbi would simply say “follow me.” By inviting the young man to follow him, the rabbi would be offering him the opportunity to become a Talmid.
By using these two words, the rabbi would be giving the biggest vote of confidence and the greatest invitation a young Jewish man would have wanted to hear. If a rabbi invited you to become one of his disciples he was saying that he believed in you. He believed that you had the capacity to know what he knew, think like he thought, and do what he did. In short, he believed you could become like him in thought, word, deed, and character. Becoming someone’s disciple encompassed more than learning and memorizing information. It encompassed their whole being –body, soul, and spirit.