Most fishing stories aren’t really about fishing. When I was little, my family would tell me about my great-grandfather heading out onto a frozen Minnesota lake toward his ice fishing hut. The tales I heard focused more on his ice escapades than the actual fish he caught.
And so it is with biblical fishing stories, especially when Jesus is placed in the narrative. Recently I watched a series that brings Bible stories to life on the screen. In one episode Simon Peter, after an unsuccessful and disappointing night of fishing, glides to shore on his boat as Jesus stands on the sand in front of him. There’s an audience faced toward Jesus, but He turns and asks Peter if He can use a net, as an illustration, to finish up the parable He was telling the people.
“This net gathers fish, all kinds of fish, yes?” Then He looks Simon Peter directly in the eyes. “All kinds of fish.” He switches His gaze back to the group sitting on the shore.
“And the kingdom of heaven is like what happens next. Simon and the others draw it to the shore, sit down, and sort out the fish. The good fish go into the barrels, and the bad fish are thrown away. So it will be at the end of the age.”
I like this dialogue because though it might not be verbatim of what happened on that sea centuries ago or what is chronicled precisely in the Bible, it illuminates a story with sentiments that transcend a sad night of fishing.
After this, Jesus performs one of His most memorable miracles. He tells the skeptical Peter to row back out and throw His net on the other side. In a matter of moments the fisherman’s net starts to break (Luke 5:6); his boats were so full of fish “that they began to sink” (verse 7). Peter is overwhelmed with gratitude; the stories he has heard about Jesus are now a reality that he’s experiencing in his own life.
“Follow me,” Jesus says, “And I will make you fishers of men”
This is one of the first moments that Peter meets Jesus. But immediately he pledges the rest of his life to whatever Jesus asks of him.
“Follow Me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).
And, in the series’ depiction, He continues: “And you are to gather as many as possible, all kinds. I will sort them out later.”
The men probably caught hundreds of fish that morning on the Sea of Galilee. Though I believe in the empathy of Jesus, I doubt His main incentive was producing a wealth of fish. This story isn’t really about fishing. It’s about seeking others before ourselves. It’s about seeking a higher and holier standard of living. More important, it’s about encouraging people from all backgrounds, pasts, and reputations, to do the same. We don’t need to do the sorting, just the gathering.
Frequently people look at the world and wonder, When will Jesus come? What is He waiting for?
If Jesus were to answer audibly, we might hear Him say, “I’m waiting for the boats to sink and the nets to break.”
He’s waiting for the fish to overflow. All kinds.
Juliet Bromme is a senior at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and interned for Adventist Review this summer.