The only fish I ever caught during my brief foray into fly fishing was a tiny sucker. When I say “sucker,” I’m not using slang. The fish was a white sucker (Catostomus commersonii), one of three varieties of suckers that swim in Missouri streams. The fish was so tiny that I didn’t realize I had it on the hook for a good thirty seconds. My line moved around some, but I couldn’t tell if it was a fish or just the action of the current.
My companions and I had a good laugh when this lunker finally emerged from the water. I worked the hook out of its lip and tossed it back into the stream. Clearly this wasn’t a “keeper.”
For any fish that gets tossed back into the water after being caught, that fate is a positive one, but in today’s parable of the kingdom, you don’t want to be thrown out. Let’s take a look at the verses:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.–Matthew 13:47-50
My first response is an old Yogi Berra line: “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Like the treasure and pearl parables, this one seems to cover most of the same ground as the wheat and tares story. But then, like that previous pairing, this one is structured differently. Here, rather than the actor (farmer/fisherman) being the kingdom, it is the tool, the net.
What’s strange about this tale to me is that the fate of both good and bad fish seems negative. The good fish are put into containers, presumably to be sold and eaten. The bad fish are thrown away. Am I over-interpreting things again?
It seems clear here that the important fact is that both good and bad “fish” can be caught in the net but that the bad will be pulled out down the road. If, like the farmer in the wheat and tares parable, the net here represents Jesus or “the Son of Man” (Matthew 13:37), then we see that the kingdom will touch or even catch up many people who are not keepers.
Can we draw new conclusions from this parable?
- The kingdom exists to serve its own (or God’s) ends, not ours. No one fishes for the benefit of the fish.
- The kingdom is somewhat indiscriminate in whom it nets. Just because someone has wound up in the net does not mean that they will spend eternity with God. That explains why some people in every age appear to be “caught up” in Christ but wind up not knowing Him.
- The kingdom is an inexorable force. Fish do not choose to be caught and, when a net is involved, have very little option to avoid being caught. Similarly, we don’t choose Christ; He chose us. (John 15:16)
These last two conclusions are a bit difficult to reconcile with the verse that led us here, Matthew 6:33. That study will have to wait for another day, however.