Monday, January 14, 2013

Fishers of Men

Today's Gospel tells of Our Lord's calling the brothers Simon and Andrew from their fishing nets to be His apostles. He tells them,
Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.
-- Mark 1:17

Of these fishermen, Isaak Walton happily notes:

First, That he never reproved these for their Imployment or Calling, as he did the Scribes and the Mony-Changers. And secondly, That he found the hearts of such men, men that by nature were fitted for contemplation and quietness; men of mild, and sweet, and peaceable spirits, (as indeed most Anglers are) these men our blessed Saviour (who is observed to love to plant grace in good natures) though nothing be too hard for him, yet these men he chose to call from their irreprovable imployment, and gave them grace to be his Disciples and to follow him.
-- The Compleat Angler, chapter 1.

What is it about fishermen that might make them well suited to preaching the Gospel? Well, for one thing, fishing, in the days before aquaculture, was less akin to farming than to hunting. The farmer sows seed and awaits the return upon his investment. The hunter or the fisher must, to a certain extent, take what comes. Indeed, strategic board games, with their dependence primarily upon the skill of the players, seem to date only from the era of the first farmers. Gambling, however, has been with us from the Paleolithic. Gambling can be a vice. However, games of chance can school us in the acceptance of risk and uncertainty. This is a valuable attitudes of mind for Stone Age hunters, Judean fishermen, and anyone else at the mercy of fortune, and may explain part of such games' social value. Just as games of chance, then, may once have been schools for accepting the uncertainties of hunting and fishing, so, too, a life dependent upon the uncertainities fishing may have been a school of accepting uncertainty in other matters. Like evangelization.

Although the Bible frequently presents us with images of the shepherd tending a flock when discussing the pastoral care of already Christian congregations, evangelization is more like fishing. You do the very best you can, but you must accept that only God knows what men, if any, your fishing will bring out of the depths for Him. Strive to witness to Christ, but know that you are not like a farmer contemplating the perfect information of a chessboard, but like a hunter hunched over some dice: whatever happens is entirely beyond your control.

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