Fishers of Men

by Laura Smith

This bible reading tells us about how Jesus called the first disciples. The disciples were people who believed in him, supported him, and lived out their lives devoted to being more like him. Does this sound familiar? Would you think of yourself as a disciple?

First, let’s imagine for a moment the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’s time. Fishing was big business; the main job people who lived there would do. There would have been lots of boats – some returning with the latest catch and others setting back out into open
water, and lots of people on the shore involved in sorting and salting fish ready to sell. Then there might have been others working in transporting the fish to market, and perhaps even more people preparing food or looking after the hard working fishermen. A noisy, busy, and bustling community, similar to that which some of you may remember – in the coal and steel industries of our local history.

The fishermen themselves were tough and strong, to handle to physical parts of the job, working all through the night, all year round, and in all weathers. They were very skilled, knowing where and how, to get a bumper catch of the best quality fish, and know how to make and keep their fishing nets in good condition. They would also have to be strong in other ways, determined and persistent, so that they didn’t give up if they only caught a few or no fish.

If you enjoy fishing for a hobby, then you might understand some of these things – knowing the correct type of bait to use, the best places to cast off, and the commitment needed to settle in for a long day, or until you catch that elusive ‘big one’ that’s been
toying with you for weeks.

But what does it mean to be fishers of people? Surely, we are not expected to go around with a big net catching as many people as we can and making them go to church. The idea that somehow trapping or coercing people is really not the aim and is something that has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel they had been bullied into becoming a Christian. Instead, in our everyday ordinary activities, expressing care and compassion, and a willingness to share our own stories of faith as well as the good news of Jesus, we can offer an invitation and give people the choice to follow Jesus. As I have thought about this more perhaps actually it is only by choosing to allow ourselves to be caught that makes us free – in Christ.

Some bible commentary suggests that the fishermen’s qualities (hardworking, strong, resilient) are the reason they were chosen, plus the fact that they were ordinary people which put them in a good position to get on well with and understand the people Jesus wanted to reach. These first disciples already knew Jesus and had heard his teaching and were interested in the way he lived – which makes the fact that they dropped everything no questions asked – to follow him straight away a little easier to understand. I still think they were very brave and wonder how many of us would be prepared to do the same.

Myself, I’d need to pack a few things, gather up my bits and bobs – and the electric chargers, get someone to walk the dog, cancel that TV subscription, change my contact details, and Facebook status, make sure someone would feed the dog, make some arrangements for those other important responsibilities, feel free to insert you own commitments or excuses here.

Moving on, we might think of the nets as the way we draw people to God, to gather in our church family and communities – casting out and pulling in with love. There are many things that make our nets strong enough to draw people together and towards God, things like knowing and sharing the bible, praying to God – listening and trusting in His guidance, all help to strengthen each knot. Strong knots are vital if the net is going to hold and to stop the hole becoming too big so that people might slip through. A big responsibility for us fishermen!

There are many other things that we can all do to make and maintain these nets. Such as showing love, kindness, compassion, understanding, expressing empathy, unconditional respect, and being genuine. Fishermen will use different sized nets, to catch the different types of fish they are looking for. We can think about this in our fishing for people idea – in the need to create varied, interesting, relatable, and
accessible faith environments. We might need to use a net made of thick rope or thin rope depending on the amount of support a specific group of people may need. We might need nets with different sized holes – for different age groups, families or with specific needs.

Using brand new nets compared to well used and reliable nets, we could say has been required during the pandemic – developing new online services and home worship material, as an alternative to in person more traditional church gatherings. Perhaps reaching people who would not normally come to church, as well as already committed Christians. Of course, we are all hoping and praying for the day when we can return safely to meeting in person.

So, do you think of yourself as a disciple now? If we believe in Jesus and want to live more like him, then we are disciples and fishing for people is part of our calling from God.

Because Jesus came to live like us and died for us so that our sins are forgiven, we become willing to follow him and share our faith stories or testimonies, with other people. This is also called evangelism, and there are many styles, models, and approaches to the best way to do it. I’ve only mentioned a few of the ways we can share with people what we believe – you can probably think of many more.

The most important thing we need in our discipleship is God – we can’t do it without Him guiding us, softening hearts, and providing opportunities and places to cast out our nets.