Have you ever watched one of those fishing shows on TV? Not the super boring ones with a guy, alone on a lake with his cameraman, pulling in one little fish at a time. I’m talking about the real fishing shows. The ones with the career fishermen, who are gone for weeks at a time on a boat. The shows where they face terrible storms and risk life and limb to bring in the biggest haul they can manage. Have you seen those shows?
Every episode has a scene where the fishermen hit the motherload. As they bring their nets on board, hundreds—if not thousands— of fish pour out onto the deck of the boat.
That is real man’s fishing.
And I think it’s what Jesus had in mind when he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be “fishers of men.” Here’s the passage from Matthew 4:
” 18 While walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘ Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. ‘ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
When Jesus called these two men to be fishermen, and that especially included their method of fishing. These professional fishermen threw nets from the boat, and drew up everything they could. Good fish, bad fish, boots, tin cans, you name it. They “cast a wide net” and brought whatever they caught into the fold. Jesus even describes the Kingdom of Heaven this way, as a net full of fish, which will be divided out into good and bad. But first they have to be brought into the boat!
In my modern context, when I think of fishing, I think of my grandfather. I think of sitting on a boat with a line or two in the water. Or on a dock, or on the shore. It’s a very passive method. It’s relaxing. We drop the line and hope for a nibble here and there. The real work only begins when a fish shows interest.
If the disciples would have fished this way, they’d never make a living. There’s no way “hobby fishing” had any presence in the disciples’ minds when Jesus told them to be “fishers of men.”
“CAST A NET” INVITATION
If Jesus’ invitation was a call to evangelism (and I think it was), then we have to ask how his original audience would have perceived that call. Throughout the rest of the New Testament we see “fishers of men” that look much more like career fishermen. We see the “cast a net” model in action.
On Pentecost, Peter stood up before a giant crowd and preached the gospel. “and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)
Facing official perseccution, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit,” preached the gospel to the Jewish Council. (Acts 4:8)
Paul spent his life traveling the Mediterranean, going to the synagogues (where people gathered) and told people about Jesus, without discrimination. (Acts 17:1-2; but also, Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8; 22:19)
When he was in Athens, he spent some time getting to know the local culture (Acts 17:16-21), and then came before the city’s leadership, and delivered the Good News (Acts 17:22-34)
These were men who saw this as their livelihood! They cast a wide net and sometimes found a good catch (as with Peter at Pentecost) and sometimes a much smaller catch of “Good Fish” (in Paul’s case in Athens, “some mocked . . . but some joined and believed” (Acts 17:32-33).
When not preaching to big crowds we see these early Christians preaching good news to everyone whose path they crossed. They cast wide nets.
“DROP A LINE” INVITATION
When this whole concept hit me, it was a tough pill to swallow. Too often, I think “fishers of men,” and I picture the cast-a-line approach (fishing is a pasttime, by the way, that I find terribly dull). We do this with our faith and with people, too.
All too often, we will “drop a line” at work, with a non-committal statement that could be understood to mean “I’m religious.” Perhaps we tell ourselves, “the people here know I’m a Christian, so I’ll wait until they ask before I try to “reel them in.”
Have you ever wondered where the term “bait and switch” got started?
This approach definitely doesn’t fit the biblical evidence, but I wonder also, if it is damaging to the fish who “take the bait.” In my life, when I take this strategy into inviting people to Christ, I lay low for so long, that when someone finally asks about it—when I finally have a bite—I “reel” like crazy, and suddenly it is all I can talk about with the person.
WHICH WILL YOU CHOOSE?
When we take the “drop a line” approach, the danger is that evangelism becomes about that one person rather than our one message. Casting a wide net—that is, doing what the disciples did and going from town to town, and place to place, telling people about Jesus—is the best way to bring in a big haul of fish.
This week is Easter week. The pastor at my church recently mentioned in a post that about half—HALF!—of all non-church attenders say they would attend church if someone just invited them. This is the perfect time to draw in a big net-full of souls who need the good news of Jesus Christ as much as you and I.
While the Church prepares to celebrate the greatest day in history, which will you choose? Will you be a casual fisherman, or fish like your livelihood depended on it? Drop a line? or Cast a Net?
Go fish! ><>
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