The Worst Day Fishing . . .

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.


A Fisherman’s Kind of Trust

I know that I’m supposed to trust God and all, but sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I find myself resisting that trust and depending on my own juice. Peter was bad about that sort of thing, which makes the story at the end of Matthew 17 so intriguing. After a discussion of paying taxes, Jesus sends Peter out to catch a fish, find a coin, and thereby pay the tax for the two of them:

“But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.” –Matthew 17:27

That’s the last verse in the chapter. Notice that the Bible does not say that Peter obeyed Jesus and grabbed his fishing pole. It doesn’t say that he stopped by the bait store, and it certainly does not say that he caught a fish and found a coin in its mouth. I’ve heard this story reported numerous times as if that’s precisely how the Bible indicates it went down, but in reality, this account concludes with Jesus’ instruction.

Did Peter go fishing? Did he catch anything? Was there a coin in the fish’s mouth? We can assume that if this thing did not work out to be a miracle then it wouldn’t have found its way into the pages of scripture. What would be the point?

It’s odd that Jesus sent Peter out to fish with hook and line. Nowhere else in the Bible, despite all the fishing that goes on, is there a reference to fishing with a hook. These people fished with nets. Peter, a professional, would have been excused for saying, “Lord, I think I’ll have better luck fishing my way.” Presumably he didn’t say that. Presumably he took a hook and caught a fish and drew a coin from its mouth.

Fishing is almost always a work of faith. We throw a lure into the water once, twice, a dozen times, and we hope that some creature, unseen in the murky waters, will respond and strike. Sometimes that faith is rewarded and sometimes it is not.

God provides for us when we walk in faith and obedience. He isn’t impressed when we lean on our own strength, our own understanding. He wants us to demonstrate the faith of a fisherman, following his lead no matter how implausible success might seem.

Did Peter catch a fish with a coin in its mouth? That I can’t answer, but I am certain that if he put a line in the water that day, then such a fish was waiting for him. What is the step of faith that God wants me to take today? It surely won’t be as difficult to believe as Peter’s.

To Fish or Not–Mark 1:16-18

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

I enjoy fishing. I enjoy fishing sufficiently that I wrote my doctoral dissertation about fly-fishing literature. We don’t know whether Simon Peter and Andrew really enjoyed fishing or simply did it as the family business, although the fact that they went back to it after Jesus’ death seems to suggest that they at least tolerated the occupation.

Whether they enjoyed the work or not, these men must have been smart enough to know that you don’t run off and leave a perfectly good job to follow some broke and homeless fellow who’s offering to make you a “fisher of men.” I can’t imagine leaving my current job simply because some clever fellow walked down the hall offered an exciting–although awfully hazy–future in teaching “the language of love” rather than English.

We know that Peter was married. What did his wife have to say about this sudden career change? Perhaps more to the point, what did his mother-in-law say? Yes, Jesus would heal her, which surely scored some points, but can’t you imagine some fairly tense moments in the Simon Peter household?

Proverbs 14:12 tells us that there is a way that seems right to man but that leads to death. At the risk of adding to the scripture, let me suggest that there’s also a way that seems foolish to man but leads to everlasting life. (Of course, this notion is no novelty as 1 Corinthians 1:18 shows.)

Notice that Jesus did not call every fisherman around the Sea of Galilee to come follow him. For most of them, their best choice was to keep fishing. After all, had all the fishermen become preachers, the people would have had no fish to eat. For some, the call of Jesus was to keep fishing, but to these two, it was to do something else: to become fishers of men. In all cases, the call of Jesus was the call to the right thing, the best thing.

It might have seemed discouraging to the fishermen Ephraim and Jabez as they watched their friends wander along after this man Jesus. “Why didn’t he want us to go?” As so frequently happens with God’s matters, the answer isn’t completely clear.  But while the answer might not be clear, the action is: Put down your nets or take them up as Christ commands. It will be the best choice.