Point of Reference
by Fred Price
One of the first things Jesus did to establish his ministry was to recruit a group of “helpers”. Matthew was a tax collector, but most of the other men making up the inner circle of Jesus disciples aren’t identified as to their occupation. Jesus first recruits, however, were professional fishermen; brothers Simon and Andrew first, then James and John. Jesus ironically calling them to, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (See also Luke 5:10) Some had coincidently had some contact with Jesus before their calling to follow Him ( John 1:35-42), causing them to leave their boats and family business “at once” Matthew 4:20, “without delay” Mark 1:18, “immediately.” Matthew 4:22 Obviously their prior meeting with Jesus made a lasting impression.
Jesus said very little without a reason, often teaching great truths through allegorical comparison; simplifying theology by alluding to his listeners lifestyles and the work environments they were familiar with. For example, he routinely used seed planting, cultivating and harvesting to teach truths about life and eternal life. He likewise compared the unpredictable blowing of the wind to the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit. At one point characterizing himself as a “mother hen” attempting to gather her chicks underwing to protect them, mirroring his concern for the masses of Jerusalem.
Avid fishermen tend to be a little different than the rest of us. They get up early, load their gear, sit in a boat or on the bank of a lake; investing time, money and effort – for what? To catch fish – or not. Which some don’t even like to eat? Some believe it’s relaxing, others say it’s exciting; some enjoy the camaraderie of other fishermen, others prefer the solitude of fishing alone.
Regardless of motivation, there are certain characteristics all fishermen share; patience, perseverance, commitment and knowledge. You have to be resourceful and able to adapt to be a successful fisherman; understanding the nature of fish, their habitat and the impact of the environment on your ability to catch these. The temperature dictates whether fish will be near the top of the water or lurking in the deep. A windy day alters their behavior, pushing them from the middle of the lake to the coves on the edge of it. Some fish prefer open water, others like the safety afforded by dead falls or weedy banks. The time of day you fish and whether the water is dirty or clean have to be considered as well. What kind of bait is attractive to different types of fish and how one fish reacts as opposed to another when hooked can be crucial. Some dive to the bottom, others aggressively swim to and fro, still some vigorously jump and twist in an effort to dislodge the hook.
That being said, you have to love to fish, because in spite of all that knowledge and preparation, you often won’t catch any. Much the same can be said for fishers of men. In dealing with people, no less than fish, we must be patient, persevering in our efforts regardless of the results, be knowledgeable of the people we set out “catch” for Christ and be committed to the cause of him who calls us to that task. We must be resourceful, adapting to the different personalities, backgrounds and perceptions of those we are dealing with; accepting the fact that we won’t catch them all. All because we not only love to “fish”, but love the “fish.”
It was no coincidence that the extension of the call to, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”; came hard on the heels of Jesus’ first proclamation of, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17 & Mark 1:15 He was marshaling his forces to, “…go and make disciples… baptizing them,… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19,20 His declaration to his original disciples of, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21; being relevant to all disciples following in their footsteps. As mentioned before, Jesus used a number of ways to characterize our responsibility as his followers, one prominent image being that of a harvester working the Master’s “fields”. ( Matthew 9:37) The message, as always, was that he didn’t save us to merely live the good life; although our lives are often good as a result of salvation. We are to be busy, taking as many others with us as we can, a message still proclaimed by the church today. (See Galatians 6:9 See also Luke 24:47)
A not insignificant difference in our concept of fishing today being that in biblical times, few used a pole to cast out into water to fish. The usual method was that of a small one-man net thrown in to snare fish or more commercially, a large net was pulled behind a boat to snare larger catches. Secondary to the catch, and maybe the most difficult aspect of it, was getting it ashore and separating the “good” – edible – sellable fish into baskets, the less desirable or “bad” fish thrown out. Again, Jesus referencing this practice as, “…how it will be at the end of the age.” The wicked separated from the righteous. ( Matthew 13:47-50)
After the roller coaster of emotions experienced because of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension; Peter decided to return to the one thing he understood and could somewhat control. So he and several others went fishing – but caught nothing. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus was onshore and similar to an incident early in his ministry, advised them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. With a “miraculous” catch of fish, Peter realized who was ashore, jumped in the water and swam to Jesus while the others struggled to get the boat to the beach. Once there, Jesus served them breakfast.
Afterwards, Jesus asked Peter – three times – if he truly loved him, to which Peter – with increasing frustration answered ‘You know I do.’ At each answer, Jesus pressed Peter further with, ‘Then take care of, feed my sheep and lambs. Ending by once more extending his invitation for Peter – and by inference the others present at this incident and beyond – to “Follow me!” John 21:1-14
Let’s go fishing!
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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