I have done some fishing — not as much as I would like, but I do plan to do more in years to come. And I’ve done some farming — only in the back yard, yet it is has been a dream of mine.
Maybe a plot of land with a trout creek winding through it. One can at least dream! But wait a minute! I am a fisherman and a farmer already. And, biblically speaking, all Christians are.
Jesus said to Peter and Andrew his brother, who were both actual fishermen, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19).
They knew how to use nets and draglines with baited hooks. They loved the big hauls, and also knew the disappointment of fishing all day and night without a bite. They learned to take the bad with the good.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John Zebedee, and two other unnamed disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). The seven had toiled all night, but did not catch even one fish.
Before the disciples knew it was Jesus, they were told by someone on the shore to cast their net ‘on the right side of the boat and you will find some’ (John 21:6). It turned out there were 153 fish in the net that they dragged to shore. Jesus then cooked them fish for a joyous breakfast.
Fishing equals evangelism. The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, to take the saving message of the cross to the entire world, is likened to fishing.
The knowledgeable fisherman is patient. He throws out the bait, using the best possible methods appropriate to the stream, lake or sea. Then the wait, alert for the nibble; the stiffening line, and there is a fish hooked.
Sometimes the hook is not set right and the fish flops off, perhaps to be caught at a later time by someone else — this is fishing. Sometimes nothing; sometimes just a few fish; or sometimes a full net.
The dedicated fisherman lives to fish, dreams and speaks of fishing, is among family and friends who also fish, and, though success might be elusive, keeps at it.
My dad taught us Philpott boys how to fish when we were little and took us to streams and rivers all over the Portland, Oregon, area — the Willamette, Sandy, Columbia, and many of the streams whose headwaters were on Mt Hood, like the Clackamas. We loved fishing, and I still do — both kinds.
The metaphor is perfect. Peter and the rest, fishermen they were, and fish for men they also did, and the impact of that glorious catch impacts us yet.
Jesus’ parable of the sower is one I have long considered a favourite. It is about a farmer who plants seeds, and its message is of great importance to all Christians.
The farmer, the sower, goes out into the field to sow (see Mark 4:1-9, 13-20). That is half or even more of the parable — the going out. The seed we understand to be the ‘Word of God’, the declaration of who Jesus is and what he did.
And the Word is scattered about. There are many soils, many terrains, and many different climates and weather patterns. Each farm must be dealt with differently, but the seed is sown nonetheless.
The farmer casts the seed about and it ends up all over the place — on the road, in rocky areas, among weeds, and even some on really good loam. There is a certain extravagance here — the farmer lets go handfuls of seed, scattered almost to the wind. The tiny seeds fall where they may.
The farmer knows that only some of the seed will yield a crop. The birds will get their share; the rocks will prevent a real plant from developing; and weeds will choke out plants that looked healthy at first. Despite it all, there will be fruit in varying amounts.
Some farmers will see a large harvest, others somewhat less, still others not so much. But the great thing is to be a farmer, a sower of seeds, and then wait and see what God will do.
We may have the best seed and the finest soil, but it all depends on what God has in mind. And we do not find fault, blame ourselves, or even compare ourselves to other farmers. It is just good to be there in the fields, throwing out the seed as best we are able.
Fishing and sowing — the great adventure, a privilege beyond description. And we Christians — especially preachers — get to do this!