Fishers of Men?
Jesus replied to Simon, "Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!"
Growing up in Sunday School, I sang "Fishers of Men" a hundred times, maybe more. The lyrics were simple: "I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me." My Sunday School teachers would occasionally explain the meaning of this song, pointing to the saying of Jesus in the Gospels: "From now on you'll be fishing for people!" (5:10). Like Peter, James, and John, I was supposed to be a fisherman.
At some point in my youth, however, I became troubled by the fishing metaphor. I expect my concern followed one of my fishing expeditions to Lake Gregory when I actually caught a fish (which happened rarely). I remember making a connection between what I experienced as a literal fisherman and the call of Jesus to be a "fisher of men." When I caught real fish, I brought them in only to kill them. (This was before catch and release became popular.) I thought about the disciples of Jesus with their nets filled with fish that would soon be eaten. All of a sudden, I found Jesus' statement about "fishers of men" to be unsettling.
In time, I learned to read the Bible with greater attention to its literary and cultural nuances. It became clear to me that Jesus was finding a way to connect with his disciples, to bridge between their experience as literal fishermen and their future as those who would, through preaching and practice, "catch" men and women for the kingdom of God. Moreover, when I was able to study the Gospel of Luke in Greek, I discovered that the phrase "fishing for people" utilized a verb that literally meant "taking alive" (zogreo). It was as if Luke had anticipated my worry about Jesus' fishing metaphor and made sure it was not misunderstood.
As followers of Jesus, we are indeed to be fishers of men and women in the sense that we are to spread that good news as a net of grace. We do not take people against their will, but give them the opportunity to respond to the love of God in Christ. And we surely do not fish for people in order to kill them. On the contrary, what we offer is life, true life, abundant life, eternal life, the life of the kingdom of God, the life of God's future. Now that's fishing I like to do.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what ways has God used you to "fish" for people? How could you be a channel of God's love and truth in your part of the world today?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for the privilege of being one of your followers. Thank you for reaching out to me and calling me through your Spirit. And thank you for enlisting me as one of your "fishermen." It is a high honor to represent you in this world and to have the opportunity to share the good news with people who need to hear it.
Help me, Lord, to be a good fisherman. By your Spirit, empower me to speak and live the truth of the Gospel. May I reach out to those who are needy and hurting, offering your gift of life. Amen.