When I was a little boy my brother and I would go fishing at the aptly named Lake Small, about 300 hundred yards from our house. It was a very tiny pond. We would take a loaf of wonder bread and make little balls with it to “bait” the hooks of our little cane poles, with the plastic bobbers/corks. I remember when our neighbor, David Jung, got a “rod ‘n reel” for Christmas when we were 9 or 10, a tiny little one, but it put him into a different league: The League of Extraordinary Fishermen. My brother Mark loved to fish and still does though he rarely feeds that passion; maybe now that he is retired … but me, I was always lousy at catching anything but the teeniest, tiniest perch/brim. I wasn’t very good at getting them off the hook, either. My brother would roll his eyes and help, with a grunt, take the little thing off and sometimes put it in the bucket (“so little, what’s the point,” he would say) or throw it back in. I actually believe that I just kept catching the same fish for about five years. So, when Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people” … well, the analogy probably works better for anyone else on the planet than it does for me. But I truly love the metaphor, nonetheless.
Jesus’ first words to his disciples were, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” His last words, in effect, to His disciples today are “Follow me.” The following seems to be the real crux of Christ’s call, His charge to us. He doesn’t seem to care as much about sheer numbers of the catch (even though Peter’s haul today is pretty impressive). God is very concerned about how we engage in being fishers of men and women; and do we allow ourselves to be caught along the way, too. Has Jesus snagged us to the extent that we are comfortable being called His disciples, His followers, and His Apostles? Jesus calls to us, first and last, “follow me.” Can we swim in the waters of Jesus with the other fish? Will we fish (ministering to others) and be fish (learning more about Jesus), all at the same time?
I know fishing is not perfect, but I was trying to understand – as I worte this - why I was so darn bad at it. Well, fishing takes what? Patience, right? Not my strongest suit, for one thing. I have the attention span of a two-year-old (and that is insulting to two-year olds). Fishing takes patience, quiet, giving oneself time; and so it is to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. If we are to grow in faith and closeness to the Master Fisherman, the Savior of our lives, Jesus Christ, we must give that time, patience, and attention. That has never been easy but even less so now, in our modern world, as we are an overscheduled, overwhelmed people. Giving our lives over to Jesus takes intent and focus; not every minute of every day; there is time to follow Jesus and follow other roads in our lives but all roads, ultimately, should lead back to the One we follow: Jesus.
To follow Jesus, too, we need to fish as he fished, which means learning his story, studying scripture and seeing the love of God in Christ that is found there. We need not be biblical scholars to explore and know more fully who Jesus calls us to be: people of light, people of the way of love, people of goodwill, people of faith and hope; those who are open to other people, especially the suffering, isolated, and needy.
So, we catch more fish if we are willing to learn how to do it. Jesus, the master fisherman, has shown us the way to fish for people. And we might find ourselves, too, on the shores of Galilee with Jesus’ disciples. Yes, sometimes other Christians make it hard to identify with Christ; people that don’t try to fish for all of God’s people; people who think that we need to become a different kind of fish, a particular type of person, in order to be caught by Jesus. But being a follower of the Risen one means understanding that Jesus loves all kinds of fish, from those puny little brim (think people, not fish please) that I once caught to the grandest swordfish or tuna (see, I don’t know my fish really).
Again, Jesus is not terribly concerned about the number of fish in our bucket. We are not called to measure our success by how many people in our lives come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way, a loving way. We are called to remind people that the kingdom of God is rest, hope, salvation, grace and mercy. There is a quiet and burning hope that is born of knowing Jesus and that is what we are following Jesus to do; find that smoldering love and to share it. We follow Jesus out into the world and declare His love in what we do, how we do it, and what we say.
We don’t use our own rod to do this; we use the tackle and gear of Christ to minister to the world – His love that has become our love; His strength that has become our strength; His grace that has become our confidence and light. We have much to offer as those who follow the fisherman from Galilee, the one who fishes for people. But we are not a social work agency; we are followers of Jesus and we minister in His name. [And, He was actually a carpenter, you know?]
Therefore, maybe we have to brush up on our patience and be willing to listen to the wisdom of Jesus. Peter shows us the way. This week we have Peter, an actual fisherman, who fishes all night and catches nothing in his nets. Jesus says to try one more time, and cast it out again; just once more. Peter trusts in whatever small way he can muster, casts, and catches a huge haul of fish. With the help of Jesus, we are not tied to what we could do alone. Then, Jesus reminds Peter that though he has been impatient and dishonest; has betrayed and denied Jesus, by virtue of the Resurrection, Peter is still called to follow: imperfectly but maybe wiser now. Sometimes we fisherfolk are humbled mightily by life, failure, immaturity in the faith, and all kinds of pain. We sometimes feel we can’t catch a cold much less a fish or two. But God in Christ reminds us that we are called, always, to follow, to go back to the basics, to remember that the One that we follow is approachable, knows our pain, and is always ready to not only forgive us, but to teach us something new about fishing for people.
Read the Gospels and know Jesus there. Follow the Way of Jesus, the way of love, and you will know Him and be known by him. Then, follow Him into the world to make it a better, more loving, more God-soaked place. We are all fish of great worth in the kingdom of God (I hope you are getting my meaning now). May we follow Jesus out into the world with that message of love, acceptance and grace. People often don’t like the smell of Jesus-bound people, but, with patience, time and love, Christ’s message of unbounded grace will grow on them. Follow me, our Lord says, and I will make you fish for people. Follow me. A rather irresistible invitation, is it not? Like Peter, Jesus wants us to go fishing – but now, we are seeking the love, grace and mercy of God to experience and then, casting our nets, to share.