I know I'm not alone in this, but to tell you the truth, this has long struck me as a metaphor which breaks down pretty quickly. On the one hand, Jesus' invitation to Simon and Andrew, James and John is simply brilliant. Without skipping a beat, he ties into the world they know best and expands and deepens the possibilities that all their lives can hold. On the other hand? To think of the evangelical mission we are all called to as a 'fishing expedition?' Well, it just doesn't seem right. Oh, yes, I know those first called fishermen used nets and not hooks, but even so... And when we think that the goal of 'fishing' is catching something we can eventually consume. Well, I for one can't bring myself to see those we are called to reach with the Good News of Jesus as 'dinner.' Nor does Jesus mean us to, of course. For in everything that he teaches these former fishermen in the time he spends with them, he demonstrates the deepest regard for those he's come to reach.
Now, I don't fish, of course. I haven't picked up a pole since I was a young girl and even then, I'm not certain I had the patience to do very well at it. Of course, we weren't fishing in the best waters anyway... my greatest catch was probably a tiny bluegill or a bullhead pulled in off the pier on a family vacation. I don't fish, and yet I have picked up some things 'about' fishing which, if used carefully, might just make this metaphor somewhat useful.
- It helps to know what you're fishing for. Some kinds of 'bait' attract one kind of fish --- and others attract another. And yet, people are less predictable than fish. I remember, for instance, a mission developer I worked with some time ago. Ken had been called to plant a church on the edge of a retirement community and so before their first worship he had focused all of his energy on inviting people over the age of 60. At their first gathering, though, they had as many young families with children as they did retirees. Someone, somehow, had missed the fact that this community also hosted the fastest growing school district in the state of Illinois. You can be certain that the focus of the mission became quickly more balanced after that! Even so? The same invitation somehow drew them all!
- There are certain times of the day which are apparently better for fishing than others. And yes, there are probably certain times in life which may or may not be better than others to reach others with the gifts of God. Times when people are already asking big questions... times of great joy and great sadness, for instance. Or certain times of year when people just find themselves thinking about matters of faith --- Christmas or Easter, for instance. Certainly you and I who are bearers of this good news would do well to 'follow' Jesus into such times and places. Certainly we are called to be as present as we possibly can be then so that we won't miss an opportunity to share what we have been given to pass along.
- And, of course, there will be no fish to be 'caught' if the water is polluted or has run dry. This surely is a call to people of faith to care for people as they seek to meet the basic needs of their lives. And to seek to change things when necessary. If people are hungry or afraid, for instance, they may not have the time, the energy, or the will to even consider larger questions. If people are stretched too thin by the demands of everyday life, I expect the result is the same.
- Finally, fishing takes patience. (This, of course, I know from life and ministry for sure.) There is a beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer which speaks of this and more.... Indeed, there is one line in the song where a young person asks her dad what they are fishing 'for' and he replies 'for an hour or two.' You can listen to the song here: My Father's Only Son. We are not likely to know 'success' the first time we drop a line into the water. Of course, Newcomer's song speaks of much more than that as she tells the story of a relationship deepened by this side by side sharing of this activity. This is an 'extra' gift from the story we share today. Jesus calls not one but four in these few short verses. And we are called to do this together.
One more thing --- and here I find myself returning again to where I started. In this story, Jesus calls four fishermen from lives they knew by heart into lives they could not have imagined --- although at least part of them must have been wondering or they would not have left their nets so quickly to take up after Jesus. I wonder now what it is that Jesus is calling us away from and what Jesus is calling us to, don't you? I wonder how our worlds would change if we just 'left our nets behind' and stepped into the new life before us. I wonder how the world itself would change if we just did this, too.
- How do you respond to Jesus' use of the metaphor: 'fishing for people?' Does it 'work' for you? Why or why not? Above I have attempted to make it 'work.' What would you add or take away?
- As much as I dislike the 'metaphor' --- do you think 'bait' needs to be geared to the people we are inviting? Or does one kind work for all?
- How are you being called to 'leave your nets behind?' What new life might you be being called into?