And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.Mark 1:19-20
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Zebedee. He is mentioned only as the father of James and John. But what we do know and can infer from watching his sons reveals a model of Christian parenting that there is much to learn from.
We know the pain he must have felt as his two sons, at a moment’s notice, abandon the family business to follow a new itinerant preacher – leaving him alone in their boat. We know he taught his children to recognize God’s voice and to respond to it. Their response to Jesus’ call was not a foregone conclusion; many people greeted the call with excuses and indecision (Luke 9:57-62). I am stepping outside the text a little here, but I think that (if his sons are any indication) he understood James and John were responding to God’s call, and let them go.
We know that his two sons were part of the “inner ring” of disciples, who (along with Peter) were chosen by Jesus to be present at the transfiguration and to pray with him in the garden, among other things. Certainly this reflects well on the training they received in the Zebedee household.
To parent like Zebedee is to teach your children about God so that they can recognize his voice when he calls. It is to provide vision and point them toward God and let them follow him, even when he takes them away from your protection and plans for them. And that may hurt – it certainly hurt Zebedee deeply. The call of God cost him not only his plans for the family business but his son’s life as well (Acts 12:1-2). You can be sure, though, that his pain was tempered by incredible pride in his sons.
In the end, Zebedee faded into the background. He is known to us only indirectly, through his faithful sons. That is a position, though, that any parent would be happy to be in.