Sunday 7 November 2021

Let's Hear it for Zebedee

 I think, just for once, we should think about Zebedee.

Not exactly a major character in the Bible. But in the Gospels, he's there in the background.

Succesful small-to-medium enterprise businessman, by the look of it. Not only has he got his sons in the business, but he's also got hired men. So trade is brisk at the moment. And, if times get hard, he'll let the hired men go. And he and his sons will pull together to weather the economic storm.

Until today. 

Jesus comes along. Makes James and John not so much an offer they can't refuse as one that Zebedee can't even understand. "Stop catching sardines and start catching people." What on earth does that mean, Zebedee thinks, as the lads jump out the boat and head off after the young prophet.

Still, he's a successful businessman. It seems he has contacts - or contracts - with the people at the Temple. As much later John will use those contacts to slip into the high priest's courtyard during Jesus's show trial.

And in theory he now has two fewer mouths to feed. As the lads are off across the country.

In practice, not so much some, I suspect.

There's a woman mentioned fleetingly in the Gospels named Salome. Not to be confused with Herod's famous stripping step-daughter, who got John the Baptist killed. Salome is there at the crucifixion. She's there when they go to treat Jesus's body with spices on Easter Sunday. And it appears, comparing the accounts of the crucifixion, she's also the mother of James and John. And one of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and "ministered" to him.

So the odds are, Zebedee has quietly been funding a fair chunk of Jesus's mission.

And while it's all going down in Jerusalem, there's Zebedee, at the lake, fishing with the hired men. Making money that the family are spending on this Jesus. 

After the Resurrection, there seems to be a bit of a lag during which James and John and Peter decide they might go back and do some fishing.

And you can imagine Zebedee. "You're back then? Is everything normal again now?" 

And after that encounter and the miraculous catch of fish, and Jesus restoring Peter and all the rest of it, James and John are like - nah, not really. And Salome's, you'd never believe what we saw in the garden. Don't see why you should - neither did all the others we told.

And Zebedee, quite likely, will have known the grief of his son's martyrdom - St James was killed by the sword, at the instructions of Herod, in about 44AD. And if he was still alive then, he will have wept to have lost his son, and maybe mourned those simple days when they were just catching fish and sending them off to Jerusalem.

And maybe he will also have rejoiced through his tears that his son was counted worthy to suffer like their Messiah, and known he would see him again at the Resurrection.

So let's hear it for Zebedee. In a world of people who make themselves great by puffing themselves up, pushing themselves forward, trying to make things happen their way - he didn't. He's like someone who privately supports the church, but doesn't want to make a fuss. Someone who knows his gifts, and sticks to them, even though they're not showy and nobody wants to praise him and he doesn't want praise. Someone who quietly carried on fishing for sardines. So his sons could go and catch people for the Kingdom.


  1. Amen! Or maybe a liturgical ‘boing’?

    Thank you that’s brilliant

  2. Boing! Time to put the Kingdom first for a - pretty long --time

  3. I was making a similar connection of Boing said Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout children's TV show of my youth (or my children's youth). Perhaps the comparison with the Magic Roundabout is apt because James and John certainly got onto one when they followed Jesus.


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