Quint the fisherman, played to perfection by the scene-stealing Robert Shaw in the 1975 Steven Spielberg masterpiece, Jaws, was a rugged, thick-skinned, and independent man who played by his own rules and offered to hunt, kill, and bring back to shore the shark that was terrorizing a small coastal town – for the right price, of course.
I’ve met some fishermen like Mr. Quint down on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. You’d have to be tough and unlikable to some degree to choose to live alone or in small groups out on the open waters, far from shore, with little or no shelter from the terrible storms.
“Come, follow me!” says Jesus to some Quint-like fishermen along the Sea of Galilee.
“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” Mark’s Gospel simply records that two sets of brothers dropped what they were doing and walked away from their boats to follow Jesus.
Perhaps Mark writes so matter-of-factly because he dare not record the salty language of the future disciples, nor the extra-salty language of their families and co-fishermen as the they watched promising young men throwing their nets, as well as their lives, away.
“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”
And there we have it.
A powerful image of the mission of God has become some two-thousand years later little more than a slick marketing scheme.
It was inevitable, really. The slow, generation-after-generation-after-generation evolutionary growth of individualism coinciding with the growth of crass commercialism, consumerism, and salesmanship, has altered not only our world economies and our habits of buying-and-selling, but also our very relationships with each other and with God.
Quite naturally then, the general “popular” understanding of this Scripture has been, in light of our American marketing DNA, individualistic and consumeristic.
Consumeristic? … Consumerist? …. Whatever.
“Fishing for men” has come to mean delivering a hard sales pitch and pressing to meet a salvation/baptism quota.
So many of our churches and denominations and campus ministries and such have made the Good News of the Kingdom of God into not much more than a wiggling worm impaled on a fishing hook.
Like the fancy money-back-guaranteed lures in the sport of recreational fishing, the sport of Christian evangelism has evolved from the simple-yet-effective sales pitch – “if you got hit by a bus when you walked out of here this morning” – to the hi-tech lures of smoke and fog machines, rock music, free pizza parties (“free” meaning there’s a catch – usually a guilt-hurling evangelist), and hell-houses (as opposed to haunted houses at Halloween).
You can insert your own joke and/or personal story of preachers and used-car salesmen here…
The whole idea of fishing with lures as an example of Christian witness is appalling. Maybe it’s because I still have the hook scars in my cheeks from having bitten many a time in my youth; let alone having gone through more than one form of the “proper training” to be an effective salesman (errrr … evangelist).
Jesus doesn’t mention lures and bait, nor people – like fish – being tricked into biting a line … swallowing hook, line, and sinker.
Being “fishers of men” is not about getting people to take our bait. It’s about casting huge nets of grace and bringing all the people within our reaches along with us into the current of God’s Kingdom as it manifests itself on earth as it is in heaven.
Like Mr. Quint and folks who fish on their boats off Grand Isle, Louisiana, this kind of fishing Jesus talked about isn’t very clean, nor very easy, nor easily measurable by bookkeeping standards.
Casting wide nets and bringing people along in the grace of God is not for the faint of heart. It can be dangerous, and many of Jesus’ grace fishermen have met the same fate of Mr. Quint in Jaws. Think Abraham Lincoln. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh, and think Jesus himself.
But one thing is for sure, these little vessels (errrr… church buildings) we’ve constructed – no matter how big or how small or how mega-sized – tend to be designed for sporting evangelism.
If we’re going to follow Jesus and cast His deep and wide net of God’s grace, we’re “gonna need a bigger boat.”
God’s Kingdom is a boat more than big enough to carry you, and me, and them, and those other folks, and even those folks over there, and the ones we love, and the ones we don’t love …
Please excuse me, it’s time for my devotional; now, where’s my Jaws DVD?
Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).