“Watch! This is the last time I’m going to cast, but I’m going to get one.” Recently, I traveled with family to meet relatives for a summer holiday. One of the things we did in the neighborhood pond was fish. It was hot and humid and there wasn’t any shade or breeze to cool things down a bit while we repeatedly cast our lines. I had nibbles but no luck in catching a fish. Others were hooking some and reeling them in. Why were they successful and not me? Was I drawing my bait back in too slowly or too fast? Was the location just void? I couldn’t tell. Finally, everyone was heading back to the house because of the mid-afternoon heat. But I promised my son we’d catch a fish. However, even he headed back to the house with his cousins before me. My father-in-law was the only one remaining near the pond. I said, “Ok. Watch! This is the last time I’m going to cast, but I’m going to get one.” Sure enough, the line pulled hard and I knew I had one. Now if I could just reel it in and not lose it. Not being quite the angler I still managed to pull it off and took it back to the house to show it off.
In Mark, Jesus told the disciples he’d make them fishers of men. What was Jesus talking about? Were the disciples supposed to imagine casting hand nets, drag nets, and even hook and line into the world? Of course not, but they were supposed to imagine themselves “catching” people. This is similar to what I imagined when we visited our relatives’ neighborhood pond. I throw in the line with the bait and wait until the invisible gift grabs it. Right?
As I’ve said, I didn’t have the success I imagined that day. I got one but I expected several. However, if I look at the trip to the pond from a different perspective there were a lot of fish caught. We all had the same bait. It just took more than one line. We’re not talking about being fishers of fish, though. How did Jesus expect the disciples to become fishers of men?
Just as my imagination was inaccurate prior to the pond, the disciples’ imaginations were inaccurate prior to Jesus’s ascension. They imagined a much different result when they followed Jesus. We’ll see in Mark that the disciples had a rough time just casting correctly. They imagined themselves as the center of their discipleship. They imagined a different vocation than the one Jesus was teaching. They left their fishing business and hadn’t realized that Jesus was teaching them an entirely new way of using political power. Their job was to catch men, but not for the sake of replicating their vision of national triumph. They were to catch men for the sake of forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins to an Israelite meant national redemption. Yet, it also meant world redemption to God, and that required a new style of fishing. Only Jesus could teach that, and that’s why we have the four gospels; to learn what it means for Jesus to make us fishers of men.
The kingdom of the one true God was an Israelite movement. It was real and it was revolutionary, but it wasn’t immediately popular. John the Baptist begins paving the way for this historical movement and it immediately finds opposition from Herod and the Temple leaders. John the Baptist is the one who first teaches what we know as the Lord’s prayer. In Luke 11 we see the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. The content of the prayer presents the welcome concept of God’s kingdom coming to birth on earth. Discipleship started with a revolutionary prayer, a cry for permanent political change. Political change in any generation sees resistance from those currently governing. People in power don’t seek to lose it. So, Jesus and his good news of the coming kingdom of God was obviously not welcomed by those in power positions. Genuine discipleship understands that it will face opposition. How then should disciples combat that opposition? John the Baptist had plenty to teach his followers on this subject and we know Jesus had more to teach his followers. One of the first things to think about for them . . . was to forget about political accolades and popularity. Because fishing for men the way Jesus taught it had everything to do with confronting the roaring lions and terrifying beasts of their era with the truth.
Does this contrast what many of us imagine discipleship is today? We’re definitely interested in what Mark has to say about the greatest ‘Angler’ of all-time and what this royal angler taught his disciples. We need to listen to Mark, wrestle with his words if we must, and pay close attention to one of the greatest records of history.
Catching people for the kingdom of God has a lot less to do with our tactics and strategies(and this is no casual fishing business) and lot more to do with our amount of lines, our presence, and availability. Many times fishers of men don’t need to lure at all. They may just need more lines in the water. The story Mark tells of how Jesus became ruler of heaven and earth. This is itself an incredible lure. It’s amazing how fish will follow the right piece of bait all while we wait blindly above the surface. There just needs to be more lines in the water with the right bait.