Follow me, I will make you “fishers of men”

If you grew up in church, you probably have that song going through your head right now. It’s a catchy jingle and I’ve had it in my mind off and on for a few days, it’s not very easy to get out! (Its is almost a sticky a song as that do-do-DO-do-do-do-DO-do-do-do-DO-do-do-do-do-do song ‘Tom’s Diner’ by Suzanne Vega– ha ha, good luck getting THAT song out of your head..)

Anyways, this verse has been on my mind for the past few days. It started as I was reading “The Shaping of Things to Come” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. They bring up a great point about how easily we read our culture into the stories of the Bible (Mark 1:16-18).

Think back again to your childhood times in youth choir and Sunday school. Go ahead. Sing it out loud. In fact, better yet, do the motions. Remember them?

What you probably have is the image of an individual, standing on the shore with his/her nice fishing pole, reel or bamboo stick casting the shiny lure or worm into the lake and reeling it in and then casting again. (I always loved that part of the song because my friends and I got to be as dramatic as possible with it. We would even have make believe contests to see who could throw their line the furthest by the strength and wildness of our motions…oh what wonderful childhood memories, I wish life were that simple again sometimes!)

But, like I said, without thinking about it, we can often project our understanding of fishing in our culture into this story.

Consider this quote,

“When we think of fishing in our western context, we think about a single person with a fishing rod and a single hook on the end of a single line. The fisherman is attempting to catch one fish with each cast of the line. It is a one-on-one engagement…so when we read about Jesus inviting the first disciples (and by inference us) to fish for people, we might assume it’s a similar one-on-one affair…” (page 44)

Think about fishing in Biblical times. Is this what it looked like? Probably not even close. At least it wasn’t for the men that Jesus is talking to here in Mark. While I am by no means a student of fishing culture in Israel during this era, I have learned enough from the Gospel narratives to know that they didn’t use fishing poles (especially those really nice graphite ones!).

They used nets. Big ones. Big enough that they could get so full, the net would get too heavy and it would not be able to be lifted, even by the whole fishing team… (Read John 21:5-7).

So what. They used nets. Of course. But, why is this important? Think about it for a minute. Imagine heading out in a boat all by yourself with a huge net. Without modern technology, you probably won’t even be able to get your net into the water, let alone have it ever be full of fish.

Here is my point, for the fishermen to whom Jesus was talking; fishing is inherently a communal venture. Without other fishermen, you’re ability to successfully catch fish is greatly reduced at best and impossible at worst. Yeah, you could stand there with a stick and a worm (we talking about Biblical times remember, no graphite poles with flashy lures and spinners). You might catch a fish or two, if you are lucky (Hey, I admit I carry some baggage here. I never catch anything when I go fishing!).

But, clear your mind of the lone ranger approach to fishing. Imagine instead heading out to sea with a group of people that you are closest with. People that you’ve spend countless hours with. People you eat with. Sleep with. Argue with. Love with. Worship with.

Imagine as you set out onto the sea early in the morning as the fog rolls over waves. All the men on the boat start working and moving together as the nets are set up and the sails are set into place. As they begin casting their nets overboard, each one of them is working together to gather in the catch. They struggle together, work together and sweat together. It’s not you or your friend doing it alone and then bringing the fish back into the safety of the boat. It’s the group working and doing it together.

You get my point?

When Jesus says that he will make us fishers of men, he is not thinking about how he is going to give each of us a graphite pole and a flashy lure and send us off to the edge of the shore or in a boat and do it by ourselves.

He sends us together.

We often think of “mission” and “evangelism” we often think of me, my autonomous self, heading out into the world and living out my faith to be an example of the life and teachings of Jesus. Hopefully people will see Jesus in me and will be drawn to him. This is not a bad thing. This is good. But I think we sell ourselves short and we end up “fishing” alone with a pole instead together with a net.

What if we understood mission in a communal venture? What if we didn’t view it as “me going into the world” but as “us going into the world?” (Of course, this assumes that we are in the world tossing our nets overboard. Not standing on the shore, out of the water and tossing in and this thought opens a whole other can of worms – no pun intended).

What if, instead of my friends seeing Jesus in only me (Lord willing and by the power of the Spirit in me!) they are also seeing Jesus in the rest of my faith community (Lord willing and by that power of the Spirit in US!) as WE live together on the water…uh, I mean world….

John 17 all the sudden makes a lot of sense….”that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that You have sent Me, and did love them, even as You loved Me.” (v. 22-24)

On Sunday we gather together as a community of faith, not to be sent out into the world as individuals living out the message of Jesus, but as communities sent out to live out the message of Jesus. This is the reason we talk a lot about missional community at The Well. Being about the mission of Jesus together. That is why, whenever possible, I try to introduce my friends to rest of my church. I want them to sit, eat, drink, play, talk and do everything with my church family as possible. There is amazing power in a community of people in whom the Spirit is dwelling.

Of course, the challenge in our day is to actually be a community, in whom the Spirit is active, in a culture that is so individualized.

Doing mission together is not easy.

It takes hard work.

Sacrifice.

The loss of self….

You know, all those things Jesus talked about.