The following is and edited version of a post that originally aired August 13, 2012. You can read the original post here.
Jesus command was for his disciples to fish for people. As high schoolers, my friends and I made fishing our metaphor for trying to get a girlfriend. You could be ‘casting your line’ if things were just getting started or maybe ‘there was a nibble on the line’ if you’d been working really hard. We had elaborate vocabulary so no one would know what we were talking about (after senior high camp we could come home and talk about what a great fishing weekend we had) and gestures (if you were caught even talking to a girl we could stand around and pretend to be ‘reeling her in’). It was a running joke that lasted several years, there was even a fishing pole that everyone got when they graduated high school. To the outsiders it was a weird graduation present (“What on earth? I didn’t know he liked fishing!”); while for us it symboled something different, college was an opportunity for new fishing waters.
Not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he told us to fish for people. But, like I said, high school boys are immature.
So what did Jesus mean? It gains a deeper meaning in Luke’s gospel when we understand the word choice he uses. When Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him, he doesn’t use the standard word for fishing, but as Brendan Byrne points out in his book The Hospitality of God it is something more like, “catching people alive.”
This is an important distinction to make because what normally happens to fish when we catch them is that they die. The imagery of fishing loses some of its power (even unknowingly) if we fish for people in the standard way. Instead, when Jesus calls Peter, James and John (and us by extension) we are calling people into a new (and more real) life. Byrne notes, “So, in moving from the everyday sense of ‘fishing’ to the symbolic sense that applies to mission, he (Luke) employs this special term – one used in connection with the catching of wild animals not for killing but for keeping in some protected way, like netting fish for an aquarium or fishpond.” (page 57)
God’s intent is to draw people into life. It was at the very heart of his call to his first disciples here in Luke, and should serve as our purpose as well. Jesus called the disciples from their life of fishing for fish (where their catch ends up dead) to fishing for people (where their catch ends up finding a new and revitalized life).
So when the church is calling people today to come into a life with Jesus, it must begin with the same message. If people hear what we are preaching and it isn’t life-giving than it isn’t the same Good News that Jesus came to bring. If people know more about our list of do’s and don’ts than they do about the life God has given us, something is grossly distorted in our thinking. If we are known more for the things that we are against than the things we are for, we are not fishing in the way God intends us to.
Thankfully, God spared any women that I was fishing for in high school. I would not have been a very good life-giver to them. I had a lot of growing up to do.
As you embark on Jesus call to fish for people, remember what it is that you are calling them to. It’s not a bunch of rules and regulations; it’s not a way of dressing or acting.
It is, at its core, about giving them a more true and more full life, God’s abundant life.