What’s the Catch? 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31 January 24, 2021 Mark 1: 14-20
Actually, I don’t know a lot about fishing. My Dad never taught me anything about it. There was some thing about him and his brother so he did not want anything to do with hunting or fishing.
And since I didn’t know what I was missing, I didn’t mind it. Until my sons wanted to go fishing and I realized I had no idea how to teach them to fish! About all I knew about fishing was you cast a line out, prop up the rod with a rock, and then lay down on the bank and go to sleep. That, however, was not what my sons wanted. They actually wanted to catch something. I am very thankful for a couple of friends who stepped up to the plate, and took care of that for me.
The first three years that I was at Lake Tahoe, Glen Smith, who was an avid fisherman, kept inviting me to go fishing with him. I had no idea much work it was to gofishing. We had to load the boat, set up the poles, drop the line down 200 feet, continually adjust the depth, and keep a continual watch on how the lure or bait is doing. But even so, I did discover that there is still a lot of relaxation and pleasure in this simple sport. And, of course, for the successful fisherman, a lot of good eating! Unfortunately, whenever Glen took me out with him, we never caught anything. Maybe that is why he hasn’t asked me to go with him the last two years
Now the four disciples in our gospel lesson were actually professional fishermen. This was their livelihood. I thought going out with Glen was hard work. For them, fishing was a job, with a lot of hard work than I care to do. They would go out in boats, dragging a big net behind them, and when the net was full, they would pull it up into the boat. Fishing for the disciples was hard, backbreaking work. And yet in its own way, it still had some perks.
The biggest one was that it meant they had a job, a means of providing for themselves and their families. It was hard work, but it was not hard all the time. A lot of a fisherman’s time is spent in mending nets, sorting and selling the day’s catch, and getting out to the fish and back. Still work, but not grueling work like a laborer at a stone quarry would endure.
And fishing was a job that does not have the same urgency that so many of ourmodern professions do. There was no time to be slow when you were actually pulling in the net, but a lot of the time, things were done in a fairly leisurely fashion. There was still time to reflect on the beauty of the seas, and to take pleasure in their skills. And while a day’s catch depended on a lot of factors out of the fisherman’s control, there was still a lot of security in a fisherman’s life. There would be good days and bad days, but for the most part, a fisherman was assured of making a living.
And then Jesus came by and said to Andrew and Simon and then no doubt to James and John, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” I wonder what sort of images were going through Andrew’s and Simon’s minds as Jesus said those words. Did they imagine dragging a huge net through Israel, scooping up people right and left? Or being no less familiar with sport fishing than we are, did they imagine tossing out the bait, running out a bit of line, and deftly pulling people into the gospel? Or did they imagine both?
Either way, I am sure that all four of the disciples were well aware of the challenge of doing what Jesus proposed. And I wonder how much of the reason they followed Jesus was the challenge of fishing for something new that no true fisherman can turn down? But in following Jesus, they were well aware of the difficulties involved in following Jesus’ proposal. Fishing for people is a lot harder than catching fish and would likely be a lot less pleasant.
In the kind of fishing they had done before, the fish’s cooperation was neither expected nor needed. It would not be that way fishing for people. The kind of fish they had previously sought would run away, but rarely would they fight back or attack the fisherman. But people can and will do both.
Jesus’ call to the disciples comes right on the heels of the arrest of John the Baptist who had dared to tell King Herod of his sins. Jesus’ followers would and still do face persecution, torture, and death for standing up for their faith. Andrew, Simon, James and John all knew that they faced attacks from the very people they sought to reel in. Yet they still took up the challenge.
They knew that the fishing itself would be difficult. Even though people face a far better fate than does a fish, people still fight against what Jesus has to offer them. Whether it is because there is too much enjoyment in sin, there is too much effort involved in being Jesus’ disciple, or the fear of change that a new life in Christ brings, we all too often cling to the old life and resist Jesus’ message.
And people are much better at resisting than fish are. When caught in a net, thereis not much a fish can do, but we humans can cut the net, or wiggle around until we find a hole to escape from, or enlist the aid of others to tear the net apart. When caught by a fishhook, a fish can only twist and turn and run and hope the line breaks. People, on the other hand, can turn around and cut the line, or attack the fisher, making him or her fumble the fishing pole. And if the fisherman is too annoying, as John the Baptist was with Herod, people can eliminate the fisherman.
So to be effective as Jesus’ fishers, the disciples had to search for the fish or people who would like to cooperate, or at least those, who having seen some of the bait are eager for more. And to somehow discover the difference between those who want the gospel and those who do not.
Except that all too often you cannot tell the difference! Sometimes the person who seems the most indifferent to the gospel is the one who actually most wants it. And the person who fights the hardest against it only wants an excuse to quit fighting and accept Jesus. And sometimes, the person who comes up and takes the bait eagerly, in the end, is the most resistant.
So while it would be nice to know before we cast our lines, who is eager for the gospel and who is not; as fishers for Jesus, the disciples would never know who would follow Jesus and who would not until after the fish was landed, and sometimes not even then.
Well, a fisherman never knows which fish will take the bait either. And so he, or she, has to just keep continually casting the line until he gets a hit. And that is what the disciples of Jesus must also do. A disciple of Jesus has to keep casting the good news about Jesus out, with as enticing a lure as we can manage, and see who we will draw in. A disciple of Jesus must cast a line in the direction of those who are indifferent, in the direction of those who are lined up for the bait, and in the direction of those who seem opposed to it.
And since we do not know what will happen when we hook someone, a fisherman for Jesus must also stand braced and ready for whatever happens, whether it be a warm hug of thanks, or an angry retort and a slap in the face. It is not easy to be a fisherman for Jesus.
But then again, it is not easy to be a fish either. There is a lot of uncertainty in responding to the gospel. Sometimes the piece of bait we get is not big enough to tell us very much about what being a Christian is all about. And sometimes both fish and people have gotten a hold of a piece of bait that was packaged as being Christian, but really was not. And having tasted that bait, neither fish nor person is inclined to trust the real thing.
Sometimes that bait is so sweet that it melts in your mouth and dissolves away leaving nothing behind but a desire for more sweet nothings. And sometimes the bait is so sour that no one wants any part of it. I have seen plenty of both kinds of that other bait floating around in our world.
Sometimes it is found in churches. Sometimes I see it when I read some of the Facebook posts from people who describe themselves as Christians while promoting their own particular brand of hate. And while radio and TV ministry has often done a lot of good, it has also unfortunately given a lot of people a very distorted picture of what Christianity is all about. So faced with all this other bait, it is sometimes is not too easy to be the fish and make the right decision.
So all a fisher for Jesus can do is to patiently keep on casting the true bait into the water; keep on casting it out until someone is ready to try the real thing. And once the real bait has been taken, to keep on feeding out more line and more bait until a taste for the good news of Jesus is developed.
A problem that I think a lot of us have, though, is that sometimes we are the fish and sometimes we are the fishers. Nobody in the church is ever really completely one or the other. We have all had some taste of the gospel or we would not be here. Yet perhaps our taste is not all that complete. That can be because we were never given enough line, there has been too much of the other stuff around, or we ourselves have not been willing to take what has been offered. And yet, ready or not, we are expected to be fishers for Jesus. That is a hard path to follow, too.
The four disciples in our gospel lesson had to first be fish before they could be fishers, and we must also. Jesus fished for and caught Andrew and Simon, James and John, and then kept on continually feeding them the gospel until they could finally stand by themselves and fish for more followers for Jesus. They were fish for a long time.
But they also became fishermen right away, too. Andrew was no sooner caught by Jesus than he went fishing for his brother. Being fish and a fisher is something that works together.
And this point is very important. Those disciples had Jesus right at their elbow all the time they were fishing. And we should remember that Jesus will be rightthere at our elbow, too, as we fish. And to remember that our brothers and sisters in Christ, both experienced and inexperienced will be right there at our elbow, too.
It still is not easy being either fish or fisher. But we were not called out for the easy stuff. The easy stuff is the sweet nothings that dissolve away. A challenge that is no challenge is not worth pursuing either. And after all, we do have help, we have Jesus at our elbows. Amen.