May 4, 1993
A few weeks ago, the mail delivered a fat fishing catalog featuring the latest variety of angling gear. What an amazing selection! Besides rods and reels, there were underwater lights, power boats with special propellers that either cut through weeds or move them aside, fancy boat seats that fold down for lounging (when the fish are sleeping), sonar fish finders, and polarized eye glasses that enable fishermen to more easily see their prey through murky water. The most brilliant pages highlighted nearly 200 different kinds of fishing flies and over 150 types of lures, each in several colors and sizes.
This catalog reminded me of a Sunday school poster about fishing. Jesus is pictured in a boat with Peter, James and John. They are straining with the weight of a full net of fish. Flipping through pages and pages of bait and gear, I couldn’t help wondering how these disciples would have responded to this catalog. Would they be intrigued with promises about the power of brilliantly colored bait? Would they be eager to try all the latest equipment? Would they reach for their Visa cards and phone the 1-800 number with a big order?
I don’t think so. For one thing, they fished commercially with nets. Lines and lures would be too slow. Not only that, they realized no matter what fishermen do or use, nothing guarantees a catch. Jesus used this fact to teach them another important lesson.
Before He took them fishing, Jesus found Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea. Down the beach, James and John were in a ship with their father, mending their nets. The Lord called all four and made a promise: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
They probably wondered what the Son of a carpenter could know about fishing. They had years of experience in their demanding occupation. They were familiar with the sea, the equipment, and fish-feeding habits. But Jesus compelled them, so they followed Him.
Some time later, after these fishermen had worked all one night without success, this Carpenter told them to take their boats out one more time. Peter was tired but because Jesus gave this unreasonable order, and because he decided to follow Him, he agreed.
They went out into deep water and lowered their nets at Jesus’ direction. The nets began to fill... and fill... and fill... with so many fish they started to break apart. Other men came to help, but their catch “filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.”
Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees in astonishment. Realizing his pride about his own knowledge of fishing and his doubt that Jesus knew anything, he cried, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Jesus replied, “Fear not; from now on you shall catch men.”
All four left their fishing business. Jesus taught them some similarities and some vast differences between landing trout or pike and fishing for men. As evangelists, they must desire God’s eternal best for their “catch”, not a trip to the frying pan. They must help men recognize that the boat, not the water, was the safest place to be.
Jesus also told them they could not use deceptive lures. Their attraction would be their message — the gospel. Because it appeals to the deepest human need, people would be interested, but the lives of the fishermen must be completely open, no deceit, nor scheming, nor bait allowed.
Jesus also promised to lead and guide these men. He showed them that He knew where and when to catch fish, just to prove that human perception is not the same as God’s perception. To fishers of men, it may seem as if no one is interested but God is aware of the hunger in people’s hearts. Rather than just another line of tempting, colorful bait hiding a barbed hook, people hunger for good news from Him.