Fishing

I have a confession to make, and that is that I am a mad-keen angler. I love fishing. Whether float-tubing down the Green River in Utah for cutthroat trout, wending my way up a Scottish river casting silver-blue-and-teal flies for wild salmon, hooking into 100lb tuna from the rocks off Ascension Island, popping for Tarpon in the Everglades, or winkling out an elusive hogfish from Great Sound, fishing is my thing. If you see a car wobbling across the causeway between Blue Hole and the airport, that will be me, craning my neck to spot shoals of fish being chased, or the occasional large bonefish, its dorsal and tail fins gently, and enticingly, breaking the surface. So, when it comes to the Bible, you can imagine which characters I connect with?

There is this one story in the gospel of Luke where Jesus asked a fisherman called Simon if he could borrow his boat and push out a way, so he could preach to the crowds on the shoreline. Simon, who had finished work, figured he had little else to do, and agreed. When Jesus had finished his teaching he turned to Simon and told him to put out into deeper water and drop his nets. Now, this, for an angler like me, is where the story gets interesting. You see, Simon had been fishing all night, and us anglers know that nighttime is often the best time to fish, yet he had blanked. Simon had caught nothing and this was very serious because Simon was not a pleasure angler; his livelihood depended on it. For Simon, there was no shrugging his shoulders and getting a pizza out of the freezer. Yet, here was a non-angling, itinerant rabbi telling an experienced fisherman when, where, and how to fish. Simon might have been forgiven if he had answered Jesus with a couple of choice words, but instead he sighed and gently pointed out that he had worked all night and not caught a thing. Yet, for some reason he also replied, “Because you say so, I’ll drop down the nets.”

I often wonder what it was that made Simon agree to Jesus’ request? Was it because of what Jesus preached from that boat or because Jesus was well respected? However, I have a sneaky feeling it was because Simon’s inner-fisherman kicked in. You see, us anglers are a bit like gamblers in that you do not have to convince us to go fishing. We love it, and there is always time for another cast. I have been late to many appointments and dinners because of that urge to have just one more go. So, it makes sense to me that Simon would drop his nets one more time.

Simon agreed to do as Jesus asked. He dropped his nets and snared so many fish that the nets were about to break. The haul was so large that he had to call for help and even then, the weight of the fish almost sank both of the boats! Once they were safely back on land, standing before the largest catch of their lifetime, how did Simon feel? No doubt he felt elated at the success of the trip, but also bewildered — perhaps stunned by all that had happened. He had met the man, he had heard the remarkable teaching, and now he had been shown how to do his job in the most spectacular way. The Kingdom of God was in this man called Jesus, both spiritually and physically. How would you have responded?

Simon fell on his knees and cried out to Jesus, “Get away from me, for I am a sinful man.” I wonder if he was afraid that he would somehow contaminate Jesus, or taint the purity and holiness of Jesus with his presence, however, instead of getting away from Simon, Jesus approached him, and said to him, “Do not be afraid because from now on you will be catching people.” Jesus wanted this tough, tired, weather-beaten, broken, fish-stinking, sinner of man to follow him.

I wonder if God wants to show us the abundance of his love as a sign that we too are called to follow him. Who among us would not fall at his feet and say, “Get away from me for I am broken, messed up, and dirty! If you only knew the thoughts in my head or the things I did in secret, then you would want nothing to do with me!” But the truth is that God does know and he does not wait for us to be sorted, cleaned up, and together.

Simon had a choice. He could have said, “Good-bye and thanks for all the fish,” or he could have followed Jesus. Today, you and I have a choice. We can go through life thinking that we know best, stay in control, and keep God at arm’s length; or, we can trust that God wants the best for us, allow him to lead us, and, like Simon, follow him. Which will it be?