Sometimes I think I would really enjoy fishing, especially fishing as depicted above. I picture a warm summer day. I sit under the shade of a weeping willow as I listen to birds singing and the babble of the nearby brook as I dangle my line and occasionally my toes on the cool waters. I read my book and pause occasionally to just enjoy the peace around me, and to let that peace sink into my inmost being. I unconsciously exult in the God who created all this and bask in his goodness. Fishing would not be a task but an excuse for experiencing and savouring all this. The last thing I would really want is a strike on my line. Such would interrupt my idyll peace!
This would be both an unproductive and a productive exercise, but it would be entirely self-focussed. This is not the picture that would have ‘sprung to mind’ for the first disciples when they thought about fishing. Their vision would involve callouses and sore muscles. It would conjure up images of big seas and a little boat; of swelling waves and mending nets, of hauling and casting, of life and death. To these folks fishing was not an idle pastime it was a vocation. It was a task, and much depended on productivity. Rather than being self-focussed the exercise was fish focussed. It was about launching into the deep, beyond a comfort zone. It was about boldly facing stormy seas. It was work! It was work that required the best of those who plied the trade.
When Jesus called these 1st Century fishermen to ‘fish for men and women and boys and girls’ they understood it as a call to challenging, indeed daunting, labour. With no illusions about what fishing meant, they followed Jesus.
Too many of us, who claim to follow Jesus in the 21st Century, hold more closely to my version of fishing. We do not labour in prayer or witness as our vocation would call for. We have traded in the utilitarian fishing boat for a cruise ship, centering life on contemplation and worship. We have neglected the task of evangelism and as we have sought self-satisfaction people are dying without having heard the Good News.
Such biblical fishing calls us to action rather than inaction. It calls us to deeper waters away from couch and willow shaded shore into the hurly burly of life, where we engage with a frightening world. As people in a little boat on a great big sea we rely on the power of God to quell the storms within and without. Like the fishermen of old we must realise that such fishing is not a solo sport but a labour in fellowship with others.
Years ago, the Church was described as the only organization that exists for those who are not yet members. It seems to me that it is high time to make ‘fish’ the focus as we endeavour to follow Jesus as his fisher folk.