While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)
Some people enjoy recreational fishing. Those of us who live in areas close to rivers and small ponds tend to fish by angling (using bait and a hook) rather than fishing with nets, which is what Simon Peter and Andrew were doing. Net fishing is more commonly seen today in industrial fishing in the Great Lakes or in the ocean.
We don’t “fish for men” on Jesus’ behalf using the angling method. Who would want a hook through the lip? Bait should not be involved in fishing for men, and there certainly should not be a hook. All of us have encountered the marketing ploy known as “bait and switch.” A store advertises a special on a popular product only for one to discover that the special price is for the least desirable variety of the product advertised, or for the smallest size, and that the upgrade to the product everyone wants is available for a higher price. The special gets people in the door, only for them to find that if they want what they came for, they will pay more for it, or settle for a different product. Ultimately the idea of bait and switch is to get consumers to pay more money for a product they may never have intended to buy. Even though the consumer may fall for the bait and switch tactic from time to time, it is not an effective method to grow disciples for Christ. Faith comes by hearing the Word. People need to hear the Gospel.
Net fishing is different from angling as it is a less damaging and more passive process on behalf of the fish. The fish in the net do nothing to be caught other than they are in the right place at the right time. They haven’t been tempted in by a bait or dragged in by the lip on a hook.
The net that Christians use to “fish for men” is the Gospel- the life-saving safety net. Not every fish is going to find its way into the net, but God gets the fish God will get. We are supposed keep on putting our nets out there- whether they come back with fish in them or not.
We who follow Jesus are given an awkward and a counter cultural message. We are commanded to tell the world the whole truth- that all humans are sinners condemned to death, save for an undeserved salvation in the death of Christ- a salvation that we are given by faith as a free gift, a gift that defies rationality. The apostle Paul teaches us:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)
We are not promised that everyone we share the Good News of Jesus with will come and follow Him too. There are people who will laugh at us and call us silly and say we believe in fairy tales, and worse. There are people who will abuse our hospitality and take advantage of the good works we do because we serve Jesus. We are still commanded to love our neighbors, to tell, to preach, to share, and to pray for those around us, that they would hear the Gospel and that the Holy Spirit would bring them to faith.
We are not called to scratch itching ears with promises of prosperity or wealth or popularity. We are not called to give out flashy gimmicks or provide entertainment. The theology of the Cross is not a bait and switch. Christians will share in the Cross of Christ as well as in the resurrection and the life to come. We are called to share in the witness of the apostles and of the great champions of the faith, teaching Christ and Him crucified for the redemption of our sins.
Who can tell if by sharing our faith today that God might work through our witness to reach someone years from now? We can only trust God and know that His Word does what it says it does.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)