Fishing for Patience
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Great patience is required for fishing. As a small boy, I found great difficulty in waiting for a fish that could not be seen deep in the water to come by and sniff the worm on the hook and decide to bite. I did as I was told and watched the bobber in the water, waiting for it to dip, or waiting for that tell-tale tug on the line. Patience soon left me and I was greatly confused on why people called fishing a ‘Sport’.
One day, in my youth, while out camping on a lake, the name of which I cannot remember, my brother caught a fish and I had not. That was it. Now it was a competition because now I had an opponent; my nemesis, my brother. From that moment on, I forced myself to persistence and patience in order to win the accolade of the biggest fish caught by a member of our family.
After graduating from high school, more than a few of my classmates would leave the state in order to make their stake in life. One of the higher paying jobs available was the commercial fishing boats in Alaska. For them the prize was not the biggest catch but the biggest paycheck an 18 or 19-year-old could collect. With this money, a young man could ensure a good start in life. With this capital he could maybe buy a house, get married and feed his family. Fishing was no longer a sport or a competition but a livelihood.
When Jesus came to the Sea of Galilee, he was not there to invite the commercial fishermen to follow him so that he would always have a boat and a good meal, but to invite more to follow him, to make fishers of men.
But it seems like something is missing here. When last we saw Andrew, the brother of Peter, and John we heard how they came to see Jesus for who he is and they began to follow Him. Now the narrative opens with John the Baptist being arrested.
It will be helpful for us to understand the time frame into which this account fits. The Synoptic Gospels jump from the baptism and temptation of Jesus into his Galilean ministry, omitting an entire year. John 1:19-3:36 provides what information we have about this “lost” year. John 1:35 and following reports that Simon Peter and his brother were not strangers to Jesus. They had become his followers before the incident in this text takes place.
Peter and Andrew may have stayed in Galilee while Jesus went to the wedding in Cana. It was during that time when Nathanial and Phillip were brought into the discipleship of Jesus. During this time, as it is written in Luke 4:24, Jesus was not accepted as a prophet in his own country and in verse 29, the people rose up and took Jesus to a cliff in order to throw him off, but he passed through the midst of them and went his way.
Matthew seems to be writing to an audience who already know this information and therefore sees no need to introduce it here. What was important was to show how Jesus was the one to come. Jesus was the Immanuel who has come to fulfill the prophecies written so long ago by such prophets as Isaiah and Malachi. All of this was a sort of preamble to set the stage for the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
By whose authority did He come? He came by the authority of our Father in heaven, for only the Son of God could possibly fulfill all the prophecies, but something wasn’t right. The chosen people of Israel had fallen away from the Scriptures and the word of God. Through the years, the people of Israel had been captured, enslaved, dispersed and assimilated into cultures not their own. They had forgotten much of their faith and much of who the Messiah was to be.
From what they remembered, Christ was to come with all power and might of God to overthrow the rulers of this world. He was to return Israel to their former glory of God’s chosen people and more; to bring them into the New Jerusalem where God’s law would reign supreme.
Yet what they saw was not an all-powerful incarnation of the almighty God, but a man of low birth, a carpenter’s son. Even the disciple Nathanial said, “What good can come from Nazareth?” In Christ we see how God, creator of all that is seen and unseen, takes from the least to make the greatest. John the Baptist said, “He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” [Jn 1:27] and, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who ranks higher than I, for He was before me.’” [Jn 1:30]
John the Baptist seems to understand the great power and majesty of Christ. Yet who does Jesus, the Messiah, select for his disciples? Fishermen. I suppose they weren’t the worst class of people he could find; he could have chosen a tax collector. Oh wait, he did, he chose Matthew, the very author of our Gospel. Jesus lives, moves, eats and drinks with those cast off from society or marginalized from the upper classes. He does not reign like any earthly king. He heals the sick, the lame, and casts out demons. He feed the hungry, gives hope to the poor, and seeks out the lost so that he may gather them to him.
I wonder if at any time these fishermen thought about the life they had given up to follow Him. I wonder because we too have been given the command by our Savior to feed the hungry, heal the sick and take care of the poor. We also have been given the command to love our neighbor and help them in any time of need. We too have been chosen to follow Him and become fishers of men.
Like Peter, James and John, for us being fishermen is not a sport or relaxing hobby, but our job. It is work. A bad day of fishing is a bad day at work. When we fail to read the Scriptures, it is as if we are trying to catch fish with a torn net. When we lack in love and forgiveness of our neighbors and our enemies, it is as if our boat is full of holes. We cannot expect to bring in the bounty of our Lord when we don’t even know where to cast our nets.
You may wish to say, “But Pastor, I’m a lousy fisherman! I put the worm on the hook and it comes back empty!” To that I say, “I hear you brothers and sisters.” Fishing requires skill, determination and patience. A man can fish all day, but if he comes back with one fish, he considers it a victory. He may say, “It took me all day, but I finally caught the only fish in the lake.”
Our skills can always be honed. The Word of God informs us, the Holy Spirit guides us and gives us patience, and the promise of eternal life with our Lord and Savior gives us persistence. If God is for us, who can be against us? For those of us with a weak grasp or for those who cannot cast a net, we can always help pull it in. We can always find other ways to help with the catch. Some can mend the nets or row the boat.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep. Jesus has taken you into his hand and will not let you go. I know that He has been very patient fisherman with me; He has never given up or let me loose from His grasp. We are all like slippery fish when caught. We struggle and thrash about not wanting to give up our lives, but Jesus has a strong grip.
“Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers; Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.” [Matt 4:18]
These brothers were easily recognized as fishermen by what they were doing. I can’t count how many times someone has said to me, “I didn’t know you were religious.” Or, “I didn’t know you were a Christian.” Why did they say this? Couldn’t they see what I was doing and identify me as a Christian? Apparently not. I wonder how many people have slipped through the net because of my actions.
When I think of the sacrifice Christ made for all of us, even me, I feel most unworthy. When I hear people’s disbelief, I think, ‘It’s not that they see me as a poor Christian, or a struggling Christian or even a new Christian without much skill, it’s the fact that they don’t even recognize me as a Christian at all. I was given one job on this earth and I fail even at that.’
People are able to see who’s who and what’s what. People see a man in a suit working at a bank and say, “He is a banker.” They see a man with a boat and nets and say, “He must be a fisherman.” Then they see a man who cusses and swears, steals from his employer, or sleeps with his neighbor’s wife; and when he attends church on Sunday, they say, “He must be a hypocrite.”
Our Lord and Savior did not lay down His life in blood on the cross for no reason. Christ took our sins and the guarantee of eternal death into the grave so that we would not be liars in the eyes of God and men. When He rose again, three days later, that sin and death did not come with Him.
Jesus Christ had one job to do and He did it. He did it so well that even those who did not believe could see He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; as the centurion at the foot of the cross exclaimed, terrified, “Surely he was the Son of God!” [Matt 27:54]
And now, we see Christ as who he truly is. We commune with Him through the Holy Spirit and in the partaking of His body and blood.
Being fishers of men is not a sport but it is a competition. The time is short and we are to gather in as many people into God’s heavenly kingdom before our great nemesis, Satan, can steal them away from our nets. Our very lives depend on the greatest catch of all humanity. We do whatever our talents enable us to do. We hone our skills through practice of the Word of God and through patience of the Holy Spirit.
We have one job to do; we are to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are to share the good news of Christ’s salvation with all people. We are the fishers of God’s people. Prepare your nets and cast them wide. The great sea of humanity thrives with fish to be gathered in.