Back when I was serving churches in North Carolina, a couple from my congregation showed up in my driveway with a boat attached, knocked on my door and said, “You don’t have anything to do today until now!” With a big smile, they concluded, “Get in!” I did not have much of a choice¾they were right, I had nothing planned for the day, and I loved water skiing! At least looking at the boat, that is what I thought we were doing. But no, we were not going to be waterskiing. We were going fishing!
I was 27 at the time, fresh from seminary and suburban life, and the congregation took it upon themselves to teach me about the Bible. Not the theology of the Bible, but the practical living. We forget that the Bible was not set in an urban context. In fact, many of the scenes in the Bible are in rural settings, and the occupations are tied somehow to agriculture. Yes, even Jesus, the son of a carpenter, probably was somehow supporting that industry. So it was not out of step to get one of these “learnings.”
“Bryan, you know we love your sermons, but . . . ” I knew I was in for it. “You keep talking about us being called ‘fishers of men,’ and we know you’re trying, but you need to learn something about fishing.”
They pulled up to the lake, and we launched the boat. They showed me the basics, and we talked. The fish were not biting. So we moved and tried another location. After an hour or so, we started to catch some fish. Some were too small, some legally we had to throw back, but finally we called it a day. Lots of fun, but I was thinking, what was the reason for the outing?
My member then explained. “Bryan, you read the call of the disciples last Sunday.” (The sermon had been on Matthew 4:12-23.) “You made it sound like once the disciples started to follow Jesus, things got easier for them. Today, was it easy to fish?” Obviously, I said no. “First, when you fish, you have to have the right equipment. Without that, you’re sunk! Second, you have to have patience, because they don’t always come when you want them to. And third, and most importantly, the fish, they are a gift from God. God created the fish, and it is because of the skills and knowledge that we have because of God that we are able to catch them.”
It was weird, getting this “learning,” because it so changed my understanding of the passage. When Christ was calling the disciples, it was not like getting a promotion or getting an offer for a better job. Jesus called so many fishermen because they had the skills and knowledge to understand what it would take to connect with people and bring them into the fold.
The disciples knew that they would need to have the right tools for faith. But they also knew that all their tools would need to be cared for, so when their faith was shaky, they would need to tend to it like James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John mending their nets.
Jesus also knew that being disciples is not easy and that people would most likely not flock to them. So he needed a group that would have the patience to put out the net of faith and wait. And if nothing was there, to have the confidence to move on, knowing that there are fish that are to be caught, just as there are always people who have faith to be nurtured.
Lastly, something that us urban dwellers often miss¾and to be honest, I think it has a lot to do with the mess our society is in¾we must have faith in God, understanding that whatever labels or stamps of ownership we put on something, no matter how much we want to take credit or claim that things are ours, they are God’s. So when we think of membership or evangelism or anything like that, we must always remember that we are merely vessels for God to do His work.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen