Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fishin'aries

Another tidbit about my son:  He loves going fishing, but hates the taste of fish.  Years ago when we took our mission trips to Alaska, our children went with us.  The girls were fully engaged in the VBS/music, arts and drama camp we put on for the Tlinget children in the small town of Hoonah.  But J?  He and the husband or another leader were all about the fishing.  In fact, J called himself not a missionary, but a 'fishin'-ary'.  And he had the privilege of being in a boat once with some tribal men when they went out fishing for seal.  A huge whale came out of the water beside their boat, spouting water, and flipping on its side into the water.  That was a highlight for J. Also a highlight was the day he went salmon fishing and was part of catching both a 28 and a 38 pound salmon.  It was the highlight of his young life.  And I can tell you that we sure did enjoy the catch he refused to take a bite of.  I'm telling you, there's nothing like the freshness of a fish that was swimming in the bay a mere hour earlier.

There's something about fishing, if you're of that ilk.  I have an uncle who would go out every single day, if he could.  Every year he takes trips to Canada to fish in a certain lake region, increasing the amount of time he's gone just up to, but not past his very supportive wife's tolerance for his absence.  I'm not a fisherman, can't quite imagine sitting in a boat every day, trying to land an alusive haul. 

But there are fishermen aplenty in the gospels.  And some of those men were second generation in the profession.  It was a good life on good days.  When the fish were jumping and the water calm.  The pleasure of a company of one's fellows, sharing the nets, sharing a laugh or two, and more than a little sweat.  These men--Andrew, Peter, James and John--they were rough men.  Probably not educated, probably not versed in scripture, complete with seminary degrees.  Obviously at least some of them knew how to read(or they learned); we have their letters to prove it.  But they didn't go to cultural events, didn't dress in fancy clothes, eat in the most honored spots.  They were fishermen--smelly and a little salty (both ways, if you know what I mean!).  And they loved what they did.  When we first meet them, they aren't standing around the unemployment office, looking for a new profession.  They aren't hanging around aimlessly.  These men are workers.  They've seen their share of storms.  And I can tell you, these strong, tough fishermen know enough about storms to be afraid to be out in them.  It's something all of them should feel--probably that healthy fear kept them safe a time or two when the clouds darkened and the waves threatened. 

So these fishermen, partners all, return to the docks one morning to wash their empty nets.  Probably they're laughing together, but there's a certain glumness as well, because they hadn't had much luck the last time out.  That's the way it is sometimes, and they know it, they've learned the rhythm of the seas.  As they're cleaning up, a stranger walks up to them, followed by a swarm of people, and He asks them if he can get into their boat while he teaches.  Sure thing, they tell him, and move off the dock.  This strange young man (not especially attractive physically) sits down in their mucky fishing boat and teaches the crowd.  We have no record of what He taught that day, but it had to do with the Advent of the Kingdom of God, with the long wait being over for seeing that Kingdom come.  "It's at hand," He might have told them that morning.  "The Kingdom of God is at hand."  Strange, unfamiliar words, but somehow delivered in such a way that the very words collect people and keep their attention. 

When the people finally disperse, this uncommonly eloquent, riveting stranger says, "Put out into deep water, and let out your nets for a catch."  One of the fishermen--the big, brash one, Simon--says, "You may be a good teacher, but we're fishermen, and I'm telling you, the fish haven't been biting all night!" 
The teacher looks at Simon intently.  I imagine this--a pause between Simon's protestations while the Man simply holds his gaze.  Waiting.  Then Simon, the cocky, says, "Well, I'm willing to do it, Master (a title given to teachers!) but only because you want us to, not because I think the idea is a good one." 

So they cast out their nets, and are now so overrun with fish, they have to get another boat to help them haul in the catch.  And when brash, cocky Simon Peter sees and is awed by the haul, he kneels right there in the sloppy mess of fish and says, "Go away from me, for I am a sinner."

I don't know if you've been following my posts, but this story has a very familiar ring to it.  A person comes in contact with Jesus, and his response is humility.  Again.  In the instant of recognizing Jesus, there is the accompanying recognition of one's own sinfulness. While Simon is kneeling--his heart on his sleeve--Jesus lifts him up and says, "Don't be afraid."  This phrase aligns Jesus with all the angels of history.  Aligns Him with the eternal.  If there's something about angels that cause people to fear, what must it have been like to see God Himself?  It wasn't His looks that caused this reaction.  Isaiah has warned us that 'He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.'  But there was something about Him nevertheless. There must have been.  Seeing Him caused either humility or anger.  Either drawing or repelling, depending on the condition of the human heart.

"Don't be afraid," Jesus tells Simon Peter.  "I will make you fish for people."  And these life-long fishermen left their half clean nets, left the newly brought in extra large haul--simply dropped the lines--and walked away from their boats. 
Put yourself in their place. It's not that easy for me, I admit.  I mean, His words are brand new here.  What does it even mean to fish for men?  And to simply walk away from the largest catch they've ever had?  Leave their boats where they sat? It's pretty amazing, isn't it?  I mean, He gives them what can only be called a miracle in this giant haul of fish, right?

I don't think so.  I think the fish was a sign, like many of the signs and wonders He performed, a means, but not the end, if that makes sense. The real miracle here is that with His words, these men were changed.  With a single sentence, He reached in and grabbed their lives, then set them on a new path, gave them a new profession.  In his words, Simon Peter exemplifies repentance.  In Jesus', He brings the transformation that is the result of true repentance.  Changed in a blinking eye by saying yes to Jesus.

I get this.  I have lived it.  Seeing Him, having Him call my name, caused a lifeshift.  I have learned to be a fishin'airy, with His mission my life-long aim.  I cast out my net, and wait for Him to pull in whatever fish He wants to catch.

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