Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)
Lord Jesus offered this invitation to the Galilean fisherman brothers, Peter and Andrew. He offers the same invitation to us: Come, Christian! Come, child. Follow me, your teacher and Lord. Follow Me, the one true Christ, into Whose mystery you have been baptized. And I will make you fishers of men.
He says this to us, right here and now, like He said it to Peter and Andrew.
They made their living pulling up their large nets, full of fish. They labored in the hot sun. They rowed; they hunted; they spread their nets; they waited. Then they acted quickly, decisively. They pulled up the nets and dumped everything in the hull; they paddled hard to the shore; they sorted; they salted; the organized and stored.
But: To fish for men…What does it mean? Two-part answer. And I think we have to start here: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)
We can fish for men because God caught us first. Almighty God has done two equally amazing things. He has laid out the heavens and the earth; He has knit everything together according to His design. He has given us life, existence. He has given us everything as a gift—above all, our very own selves. He has formed us, equipped us, empowered us, and presented us to ourselves, saying, Behold, child! I give you yourself as a gift!
And: Into this vast cosmos which He has arrayed so wonderfully, He Himself stepped, and He lived like us. He walked. He ate fried fish. He talked with His friends over a campfire. He has touched our homeland Himself, Personally, as one of Mother Earth’s citizens. The light of the world, Jesus Christ—tender healer, demanding teacher, crucified for us, risen, and ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem, the divine-human High Priest of our religion.
We can fish for men because this Light of God has shone. The net we use? Nothing less than that same eternal and glorious light. Why would any human being toil and labor in vain, alone and friendless in a windswept universe arcing towards nothingness? No: our Maker made everything with a plan. He piled up the mountainsides for a reason. And Christ reveals the reason: everything Almighty God does, He does for friendship, for communion, for love. Orphans under a silent sky? No. When we pray, we pray to our Father. And He hears us, and loves us, and knows what we need a hundred times better than we do.
An analogy. For twenty-five years I have cherished a particular possession I have. It has traveled with me, through a dozen moves from seminary to parish to parish to parish. And it weighs a lot, like ten or fifteen pounds. It’s the collected works of William Shakespeare, all his plays and poems in one big book, with excellent essays about them all. The Riverside Shakespeare.
This ten-pound object could hold any door open, or serve as a tv stand, or keep a picnic blanket from fluttering away in the wind. But that’s not why I love this possession so much; that’s not its purpose. I love it because I can read it.
In the same way, a human soul can pursue all kinds of things–like fleeting pleasures, or selfishness, or worldly power. Or a human soul can sink into slavish laziness. But the true reason why a human soul exists is: friendship with God in Christ. When we live in the friendship with God that Jesus offers us, then we know ourselves, and we are ourselves.
Part Two of what ‘fishers of men’ means. In the net, the fish come together. We fish for men because the light of God draws us together, together in Him.
I’m not going to get into politics right now, other than to say this: Inauguration Day left me with the sense that our USA is experiencing a profound identity crisis.
A special day for patriotism. Indeed, we take pride in our great nation. But patriotism is meant to offer us a firm sense of who we are as a people. When we proudly say, I am an American! My home is the USA! that should have a clear meaning, a meaning that calms and comforts the soul. But we Americans struggle with that right now. We struggle to find the comfort of a calm home that embraces with sweet harmony all the people who live here.
Lord Jesus has the answer. People, come together around Me! He tells us Christians: fish with that net. Jesus Christ, alive and well, pouring out His Holy Spirit through His Church—He can and does purify, elevate, and ennoble the minds of everyone Who lives in His friendship, so that we can live in fruitful harmony together. Gathered around Him, each of us can exercise every particular faculty of our own unique, individual selves, and it’s all for the good of everyone around us! Jesus gives us that kind of communion. The life of God is perfect peace. And that peace fills the hearts of those who live in Christ, giving us a sacred bond of friendship.
Fish for men! He commands us. The Light of God has shone. Man can live free. Man can know and be himself. And mankind can live and flourish in common harmony—when we get caught up in the beautiful net that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.