Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.”
In the ancient world, fishing was a lucrative profession, it brought in an above-average income. I’m sure Peter, Andrew, James and John had lots of money tied up in boats, nets and gear. I’m sure they had all their eggs in this basket. Catching fish is what fed their families and put money in the bank. Every day the same: Get up, go to work, mend the nets. Check the bank account and the investments. Pay the mortgage on the house, the loan on the boat. Buy groceries. Save up for college, cars, and lots of clothing (kids grow so fast). Go to bed and do the same thing tomorrow. That was life for Peter, Andrew, James and John. But in an instant Jesus makes all of it seem shallow.
Jesus says, “I will make you fishers of men.”
In the gospels, Jesus always seems to be trying to show his followers that a life of significance is measured not by what we attain nor even how good we are at obtaining it. You can fill in the blank with whatever “it” may be–money, possessions, career, friendships, social connections, the grade we give ourselves for our efforts. Jesus wants us to see that these things do not ultimately make our nets feel full and that the more we strive after such things the more shallow and meaningless life becomes. Unfortunately, we don’t get what He’s talking about a lot of the time. We’re pretty clueless, in this regard.
So, Jesus says it many different ways. Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus says, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32-33). Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus says, “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Jesus says, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
Now, of course, Peter and the rest were in for a radical readjustment to life. They would become the witnesses upon which the whole Christian church would be built. You and I don’t have that kind of calling. Indeed, many who are reading this blog might be terrified at the thought of having to “evangelize” or do “mission work.” Not only that, but we’ve got families to support and jobs, and all kinds of other responsibilities. It wouldn’t be very godly to drop all of that. But that’s no excuse to ignore Jesus when he says, “I will make you fishers of men.”
Maybe it’s like one of my favorite seminary professors wrote in a commentary on this text: “Not all of Jesus’ disciples will function in His service in the same way… If one could expand the metaphor a bit, some Christians will steady the boat, some will repair the nets, and others will cast the nets and gather the precious catch of human lives for Christ” (Gibbs, Jeffery; Concordia Commentary: Matthew, page 218).
In short, Christ’s calling applies to each and every one of us in different ways, but it still applies. Fishers of men transforms our every vocation. Christian becomes the adjective that defines everything we do.
However, first, we’ve got to let go of the nets we are currently holding. I do wish there was some profound connection that I could make with the Greek language at this point; I’d like to say that the word “nets” here can also mean worldly priorities and the things that pull us away from our Christian living. That’d be such a perfect illustration. But unfortunately, net simply means net in Greek just as it does in English. But hopefully, you get my point.
We’ve got to drop the nets!
Holding on to nets is much more than just wanting money or worldly things. None of us are that crass. We understand that being a Christian means being in the world but not of the world. What we’re not so adept at is putting ourselves second and our Lord and His will for our lives first. Adam and Eve didn’t do that so well, either. In every thing we instinctively ask What do I have? What do I want? What am I missing? Notice how these questions put all the focus on “self,” while God and our neighbor are pushed into the background. Oh, instead, if only we could ask questions like these: How am I carrying my cross today? How am I serving my neighbor today? How am I honoring my marriage today? How am I leading my children today? Questions like these cause us to look outward more than inward, and in the process, we are diminished while the lives of others around us and their needs are sharply enhanced, and God feels close at hand.
As both sinners and saints, our ability to let go will not always be smooth. All too often, we’ll allow stress, doubt, and anxiety to block out God’s word and will. Other times greed, ambition and selfishness will cause us to hold on to our nets tightly. Still other times we’ll fail to be good stewards of time and opportunities. But when this happens—and it will—let me give you some pastoral advice:
First, take a deep breath. Our emotions are often our worst enemy. Second, say a quick prayer. Perhaps something like, “Lord, please help me discern how, in this moment, to live the life You intend.” Third, focus on what is happening at that very moment: I am in the office. I am in the hospital. I am sitting in class. My spouse and I are having a disagreement. Then, consider how in that unique, God-given, here-and-now circumstance, you can be Christian in what you say and do.
Maybe that too simplistic. This advice isn’t meant to be a magic wand. There will be so, so, so many times we will fail, try as we might. But I think intentionality is always going to be our best bet. Why? Because being intentional about following our Lord always turns our eyes to Jesus and away from “self.” It causes us to look to Him for help. And this I know for sure:
HE WILL NOT FAIL TO GIVE IT!
One thought on “Devotion #8”
Oh if only I could learn to ask myself those questions.