My 13 year old daughter and I went fishing recently. I was looking forward to this time with her, but after about 30 minutes of not catching any fish, she gave up. No coaxing could get her to fish anymore. Since she wasn’t catching anything, she thought fishing was pointless. Of course everybody who fishes will have times when no fish are caught. This is just a reality of fishing. You might have the right gear, the right location, the best weather, and be an expert fisherman and yet you still might get skunked some days. While having expertise, training, strategy, and experience are all valuable (and may increase the odds of catching fish) you can strike out on any given day. This is just one of many reasons Jesus connected evangelizing to fishing. The ones fishing aren’t in control of the results.
Jesus went to the shore of Galilee and called four fishermen to follow him. Why four? Have you ever thought about the fact that one-third of the Apostles came from the same profession? Why? Jesus was a carpenter himself and he talks about numerous other professions – the farmer, the shepherd, the merchant – yet he tells his followers he is going to make them into fishers of men. He put it like this
- “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” -Matthew 4: 19
- “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” -Mark 1: 17
- “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” -Luke 5: 10
Fishing isn’t easy. It is a learned skill. The same goes for fishing for men. Fishers of men are “made” and Jesus knows how to make them. When we think of how we try and teach folks to make fishers of men today, it doesn’t always follow the methodology of Jesus. He spent vast amounts of time with others, showing them how he interacted with non-believers, religious leaders, friends, and foes. He modeled holiness for them. He challenged them. He showed them how to navigate conflict with others. There were no lectures (that we know of) and the formation of his followers was never passive. There are many lessons we can learn when thinking of this making of fishers of men. Here are 4.
4 LESSONS ON FISHING FOR MEN
1 – We have to go to the place the fish live, not wait for them to come to us.
How often do we run a program at our parishes, promote it in the bulletin / website, have announcements made at Mass, and tell others about it – yet the same 15% of Mass-goers show up? Where are the non-believers? Where are the folks who need to be evangelized the most? Well, they live next door to you. They are at work or school with you. Some may go to church sometimes, but few will respond to an announcement without a personal invitation. Trying to fish for men at a church program is like trying to catch fish in a field with no water. Evangelization is OUTreach, not INreach. Thus we need to go to those God wants us to catch.
2 – Water is unfamiliar and unnatural territory for us.
While learning to swim, almost everyone has an experience of taking a mouthful of water and coming up coughing and scared. Even after you learn to swim and get more comfortable in water, it isn’t our natural habitat. The same goes with evangelization. The modern culture is not comfortable for a lot of Christians. They are afraid of the dangers of it and feel unnatural in it. Even after a missionary disciple learns to swim in the waters of our culture, it isn’t “home”. Heaven is. Embracing this dynamic can help us to fix our eyes on heaven, while still getting comfortable going into the waters where the fish are.
3 – Fishing takes patience and perseverance.
No good fisherman becomes a good fisherman by always being successful. I have fished long enough to have lost lures, broken rods, lost numerous fish I thought I had hooked for sure, gotten hooks stuck in my fingers, had miserable days in terrible weather (with no fish), etc. Sometimes it just isn’t your day as a fisherman. Sometimes the fish have a mind of their own and decide they aren’t going to be caught no matter what we might throw towards them. But, to go back out the next time with a renewed purpose and hopefulness shows perseverance. To continue to stay on the water, regardless of the outcome, takes patience. In evangelization these two virtues are paramount. We need to grind our way through the failures, disappointments, and problems. If we don’t fish for fish, we may not eat fish. If we don’t fish for men, souls may be lost.
4 – If you want to get better at fishing, learn from better fishermen than you.
I started to learn to fish from my Dad, who taught me all the basics. Later in life, I learned from friends and others who were better than me. I am still no expert fisherman, but I am much better than I once was. Good enough to teach my kids and other novices. To catch men, we have to listen to the one who makes us fishers of men. At both the beginning and ending of the time the apostolic fishermen follow Jesus, they are told by Jesus to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Before Jesus calls the fisherman, he tells them (Luke 5) to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. These are men that have been fishing their entire lives. They just spent an entire night getting skunked and are tired. Yet, they obey and then haul in a huge number of fish. The scene is repeated in John 21, when the resurrected Jesus tells them to do the same. There are many lessons in these miraculous catches of fish, but the one I want to focus on is this – whenever we aren’t catching others, we need to listen to the voice of Jesus who directs us where we need to cast our nets. No matter what we think about our strategy and what we know. We need to listen to Jesus. Just think of the time, resources, and effort that the modern Western Catholic Church puts into ministry…now think of the results. Is it not time to cast our nets onto the other side of the boat? Jesus can do what we cannot. Jesus can catch men through us and save their souls. It is a matter of listening to his voice, if we are to be better fishers of men.
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