What was it about a particular twelve men that made Jesus call them to become his disciples? What compelled them to follow? In most references, the gospels record it simply—one day Jesus saw these men, called to them, and they followed. There must be more to the story.
Of what is recorded about the disciples, we know that at least the first who were called had two things in common with Jesus: that they were men of trade, and that they were from Galilee. Jesus, having been a carpenter from Galilee, might have already known these fishermen, and vice versa, whether from the synagogue, through voluntary trade associations or elsewhere. That these men might have already known Jesus could have had something to do with their apparent quickness to follow him, although Luke records that a miracle might have helped compel them, too (Luke 5:5-11). Craig Blomberg notes that Luke might have added this miracle to his story “to avoid giving the impression Mark’s sequence might create: that these disciples’ decision to join Jesus was more spontaneous and unmotivated than it actually was.”
When Jesus called Levi (Matthew), as recorded in the gospels of Mark and Luke, Matthew invites Jesus, his disciples and “other notorious sinners. (There were many people of this kind among the crowds that followed Jesus)” (Mark 2:15) to his home, as well as Pharisees. What this means is that a number of people of trade and (since Pharisees were there) the local synagogue might have known or at least heard about Jesus. When confronted by the Pharisees on the company he keeps, Jesus replied, “I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough” (Mark 2:17). This is one indication as to why Jesus might have called these particular men—they were sinners, they conversed with sinners and as such they were humble and teachable. Luke records the disciples’ humble, sinful self declaration in the calling of Peter, James and John. Simon Peter “fell to his knees before Jesus and said, ‘Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you’” (Luke 5:8).
Luke also records that prior to Jesus calling the twelve apostles (Luke indicates Jesus may have already had a number of disciples; but the twelve that were called were a select group from those disciples), Jesus went to pray to God all night (Luke 6:12-13). The calling was decided by God the Father, and although we might not expect ‘notorious sinners’ to be the immediate apostles of the Messiah, the calling was deliberate for just the right men. The fusion of this team was bonded by the Holy Spirit, directed by the earthly leadership of Jesus.
Through this discipleship, the former fishermen then indeed became fishers of men. It is our discipleship under Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, that today we ‘notorious sinners’ too can become fishers of men.
 James Jeffers, The Greco Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, IVP, 1999), 74.
 H. Wayne House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 33.