17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Nets. Not a fishing pole. Nets.
We think of Peter and Andrew, James and John as rugged individuals providing for themselves and their families, fishermen on the sea. We see independence, self-reliance, all those wonderful American virtues. And so we subconsciously translate “fishing for people” as each of us out there throwing out the line to bring someone in to Jesus. We think of salvation as personal. We tend to think in terms of individual salvation. A fishing pole.
A colleague of mine years ago hauled his bass boat into the center aisle of his sanctuary and gave his sermon with rod in hand, casting a bob down the aisle. You can’t push that metaphor very far without troubling questions about fake bait and barbed hooks.
But they fished with nets. They caught whole shoals. They were starting a movement. They were gathering crowds. Peter’s Pentecost message gathered 3,000 people ready for God to come and reign among them. In that wonderful story at the end of John there are 153 fish in a net bursting to contain them. But let’s be clear, bursting nets doesn’t mean there are too many people for the seats in church; it means three million people in the streets declaring “Je Suis Charlie.” – Or, in this case, “I follow Jesus.” “I choose the reign of God over the dominions of men.” “I choose the reign of mercy and justice over the tyrannies of power.” “I choose the governance of God’s Spirit over the governance of social convention.” “I choose generosity over greed, service over power, compassion over hardness of heart.” “I choose courage in the face of hate and fear, rather than more hate and fear.” “I choose boldness for the truth over silent consent to what is false.” “I choose forgiveness over revenge, even seventy-seven times.” “I choose a shared table.”
When Jesus walks along the shore and summons Peter, Andrew, James and John, he is summoning them away from an imperial system where the right to fish was granted by the empire for something that worked much more like a bribe than a fee for the protection of the fishing stocks. They were licensed to fish, but the fish didn’t go to the market or their own table, it went to a middleman who carried it to a factory where it was converted into fish sauce, a delicacy for the Roman elite (and the Judean elite who shared their table, their values, their allegiances to Roman Imperium.)
It was time for change. The social compact was no longer justice and mercy but wealth and power. So Jesus gathers his friends and sets off to change the world, to call the people of God back to the path of God, to bring God’s spirit to reign in their hearts and their world.
It is the beginning of the March on Washington. The beginning of the Freedom Riders. It is the beginning of Non-Violent Resistance Training and the decision to not participate in a corrupt system. Jesus doesn’t move to the back of the bus. They head to Jerusalem, bearing witness along the way to the true generosity of God, the work of reconciliation, the healing of lives, the raising of the dead. Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of what is right and faithful. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the right and proper observance of our obligations to one another (Matthew 5:1-12).
At the center of all this is a man of extraordinary spiritual power, a man anointed of God, a man who faced demons in the wilderness and will face pain and betrayal in Jerusalem. But from that sorrow the world is born anew; from that grave the world is born from above.