Fishing for People
This Sunday’s scripture reading and message
New International Version (NIV)
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
16 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. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
So I think the story today really begs the question: was Jesus just really bad at analogies?
Ok, I get what he was doing. He was talking to the fisherman in language they would relate to. “You guys are catching fish. Come with me, and we’ll catch people.” He must have been pretty compelling and charismatic, because they just dropped their nets and followed him. Can you imagine the conversation at home later that day?
“Hey honey, I’m home.”
“How did work go? Did you catch a lot of fish?”
“No, we didn’t catch any fish today. Some man who claimed to be from God came by and told us to drop everything and follow him, so we did.”
Yeah, “I went out fishing for people today” is not going to make a lot of sense to anyone. In general, you catch fish in order to kill them and eat them or at least to kill them and sell them to someone else who is then going to eat them. I think history has borne out that Jesus was not suggesting a murderous cannibalistic rampage when he said, “I will make you fishers of people.”
No, he was really saying , “come with me, and we’ll get people all caught up in this Good News that I have to share.” Nobody was expected to start tossing nets over people and dragging them in.
Maybe it was a patience thing. Maybe that’s why he started with the fishermen and the fishing analogy. Fishers of fish need a lot of patience, but fishers of people may need even more. After all, none of us is Jesus. We’re not just going to be able to walk up to people and say, “Hey, follow me. I know the way!” and expect them to drop everything and follow wherever we may lead. We’re not even going to get 9 out of 10 people we invite to church to show up.
Maybe it was all about strategery (I know. Not really a word). Fishermen have to be strategic. There’s that. To be familiar with the waters in which they are fishing and with the fish they are stalking. They know what time of day is likely to yield the best catch. Fishers of people have to be familiar with the waters in which they fish and with the people who swim in those waters.
I think it’s compelling that this story is Jesus’ big entry on the scene in the Gospel of Mark, which scholars believe to be the first Gospel written. Mark doesn’t bother with the whole manger, shepherds, angels and wise men birth narrative. He left that for Luke to deal with. Mark starts out with John the Baptist announcing his coming and then John baptizing Jesus and by the 14th verse of the first chapter, Jesus is off and running in his ministry, kicking the whole thing off by calling some fishermen to follow him.
And he doesn’t say, “Follow me and save yourselves!” He doesn’t say, “Follow me and together we’ll do great and amazing things!” He doesn’t even say, “Follow me and leave your old ways and your old sins behind.” He says “Come with me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” Come with me, not for your own sake, but for the sake of all the people we will encounter. Come with me, and I’ll teach you how to transform people.
Omigosh! What if following Jesus is not just about me and my own personal salvation???? !!! What if it’s not enough that I know that Jesus is Lord? Could it be that I am supposed to go around sharing this information? Am I supposed to fish for people? Does it involve putting worms on hooks? That might be a deal breaker.
Following Jesus is not a solitary pursuit (Jesus did call 12 disciples), and it’s not something we can keep to ourselves. Never once does Jesus talk to anyone about having a personal relationship with him. He calls us as a community, He calls us to community and He calls us to go out into community. Just like Jesus called the fishermen, Jesus is still calling on us today…to follow Him and become fishers of people. So that others might know, and they might believe and even start to fish, too.
And there are a lot of fish…er, people in the sea:
- people who claim Jesus is Lord, but then don’t live like people who really believe it
- people who claim that Jesus is only Lord for people that they have deemed worthy
- people who have been burned by those who claim Jesus is only Lord for people that they have deemed worthy
- people who just can’t believe in a God who won’t do their bidding.
- people for whom life has sucked away a capacity for belief and wonder and awe.
- people who have witnessed and experienced too much pain to ever believe that there could be a loving God who dwells with us.
- people who are so angry and bitter that they have forgotten how to love
I could go on and on and on and on, but in short, we have a lot of people to catch.
And what today’s story tells us is that we’re equipped to do it. While fishing for actual fish requires certain tools and abilities, fishing for people merely requires a willingness to follow Jesus. We don’t have to craft sermons or memorize long passages of scripture or have our “case for Christ” ready to present in Powerpoint in order to prove something. We just have to keep fishing. To continue to say, “Come and see.” To cast our nets in the waters that we know. To realize that the Good News of the Gospel isn’t all about us and definitely isn’t something we can keep to ourselves.