Time for bed said Zebedee?

The part of Matthew’s gospel I read today was the call of the disciples from their fishing boats:

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

– Matthew 4:21-22

As I was reading I spotted someone in the story that I’ve never really thought about – Zebedee. If I say the name Zebedee and you’re of a certain age, this is probably the image it brings to mind!


This Zebedee in the Gospels though, is the father of two of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, James and John. What struck me as I read this time was what happened to poor old Zebedee?!

In the time of Jesus, and still in many countries around the world today, there would have been no concept of career choice. You were born into a family and would be part of whatever trade you were born into. Zebedee is losing his sons who were to carry on the family fishing business. Jesus calls James and John whilst they’re mending nets with their dad. They get up and follow him. Zebedee is left in the boat.

I wonder what his reaction was? It could have been one of anger at losing his workers. He probably was pretty upset. However, I’m sure he’d have known who Jesus was. James and John had perhaps seen him before and talked about him to their dad. Perhaps, even, Zebedee  had recognised Jesus as an important figure before James and John? 

We’ll never really know but if Zebedee had condemned his sons for following Jesus, he surely wouldn’t have got a mention in ‘the greatest story ever told’! James and John, throughout the gospels are called the Sons of Zebedee.  It must have been what everyone called them as Jesus creates a nickname based on it, calling them Sons of Thunder! Perhaps Zebedee was a significant figure in that small community. 

So what am I getting at? Well I think what this tells us is about how we carry all our experiences with us when we choose to follow Jesus. We might leave our old life behind, but we do carry with us what went before. James and John left their life of fishing, but they had a reminder of where they had come from in their name – Sons of Zebedee.

A minister once said to me ‘nothing is wasted in God’s economy’. God uses all our experiences and past to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

When I left Estonia after living there for a year, someone in the English speaking church I went to said ‘you will always carry a bit of Estonia with you’. Although I’ve left, the experience has shaped me and changed me, and I do carry a bit of Estonia with me (not least in my Estonian Twitter name, Vahva)!

  • Who or what might be your ‘Zebedee’? 
  • What can you give thanks for that has helped shape you and lead you to Jesus?




This is what Wikipedia says about Zebedee:

Zebedee, according to all four Canonical gospels, was the father of James and John, two disciples of Jesus. The gospels also suggest that he was the husband of Salome: whereas Mark 15:40 names the women present at the crucifixion as “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome,” the parallel passage in Matthew 27:56 has “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that the Salome of Mark 15:40 is probably identical with the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew.[1]

Zebedee was a fisherman, “probably of some means.”[2] Although he is named several times in the gospels, the only times he actually appears are in Matthew 4:21-22 and Mark 1:20, where he is left in the boat after Jesus called James and John. Mark notes that Zebedee was left with the “hired men.”

Zebedee lived at or near Bethsaida.[2


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