It was a perfect day for fishing.
And Asher wanted to go fishing for his 7th birthday.
Now I won’t say that what Asher wants, Asher gets, but we are grandparents, after all. We have a reputation to uphold. And this seemed like a pretty reasonable and easy request. Pop is all about spending time together, teaching his grandkids new things, being outside in the sunshine, and just having fun. He bought the first rod and reel he found.
I’m not sure who loved the gift more, Asher or Pop. No matter. The next day was one of those midsummer beauties, breezy and bright with little to no humidity. A perfect day. Late in the afternoon, the “men” excitedly piled into our little Ford and headed to a shady irrigation pond on Pop’s cousin’s farm just the other side of Elmer. The birthday boy’s adventure was on.
Now the rest of the story comes second-hand to me and there are several differing accounts, I might add. After a couple of hours, the fishing party exploded back into the house in a burst of noisy energy, each one chattering and laughing all at once, trying to be the first to relate their tall tales.
So here’s the Cliff Notes version.
Law’s first catch of the day was only slightly bigger than his bait.
Jude, snagging the biggest bass of the afternoon, was so excited he forgot to reel in his line. He simply yanked his rod back over his head so hard that the not-really-a-flying-fish fish flew into the tree overhead, snagging leaves and branches in its aerial debut. Hard to look like a pro when you’re climbing a tree to demonstrate your catch and release strategy.
Meanwhile, Pop, carefully lecturing the proper way to remove the hook from a slippery sunny, was in the middle of his diatribe. “You very carefully take the fish and hold him like this…” Suddenly, the little guy flapped his razor-sharp tail, catching Pop off guard. Some say he squealed like a little girl. Others say it sounded more like a baby pig. Either way, Pop isn’t talking; he’s just bleeding.
Greg, luckily, was so busy untangling lines, keeping track of the tackle, and baiting hooks, he escaped much ridicule. There was a lot of that going around, I’m told.
And then there was the birthday boy. His first catch was rather shakily recorded for posterity on his dad’s phone. I heard later it actually was a reenactment. Still, it is adorable. Nervous but obviously proud, Asher gingerly holds out the line with the wriggling fish (another sunny?) hanging on the end of his hook for the obligatory photo op. He is beaming. Amid cheers and Atta boys, Asher was informed by his second-cousin-twice-removed that a man always has to kiss his first fish on the lips because she might turn into a beautiful mermaid for him to marry when he grows up. Standard operating procedure for real fishermen. Initiation rites. You can hear Asher’s little voice repeating to a completely deaf audience over and over, a bit louder and a lot firmer each time, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” Really adorable.
Asher continued to catch fish the rest of the day; Pop wasn’t sure he would ever want to try it again after all of that. But he bravely went right back at it, a real trooper. All in all, it was a wonderful, memory building kind of adventure. I think they may even try it again someday, maybe on another perfect summer afternoon.
Fishing always reminds me of Jesus and his disciples, at least four of whom were professional fishermen. Some scholars think up to seven of the twelve may have been (cf. John 21:1-3). I’ve often wondered why Jesus particularly chose fishermen.
Thinking about it, it occurs to me that fishermen were (and are) a special breed of men. They had to learn, because of the very nature of their profession, many challenging skills to help them accomplish tasks under extremely difficult circumstances: stormy winds, raging waves, pelting rain, sleet, snow, drought, cold, fog, scorching sun, and even scarcity of fish.
These weather-battered, ordinary guys often worked all night and then had to wash and repair their nets, unload and sort the catch, clean the boat, upkeep the sails and other equipment as necessary---a huge undertaking. They did not quit when things were tough. They could ill afford to be lazy or distracted. They had to be courageous and bold, strong and resilient, patient and determined, energetic and motivated. Using nets to trawl the Sea of Galilee, these men had learned about hard work, cooperation, staying busy, getting along, and depending on one another. They had also learned to live by faith. What valuable qualities and habits they had developed! How useful for serving the Master!
No wonder Jesus called fishermen to Himself. He needed disciples He could train for the difficult work of the kingdom, work that would require courage, strength, focus, cooperation, hard work, commitment, and patience.
“Follow me,” He commanded with authority, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) And they came. At once.
They left everything and, along with the others Jesus had chosen, these twelve lived with Him, learned from Him, and loved Him during the three years of His earthly ministry. They came to believe He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They began to vaguely understand His mission: “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) As eye witnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, this rag-tag bunch would become the prime conveyers of God’s truth and His purposes, His plan to rescue mankind and form a people for Himself.
They had become fishers for men’s souls, just as Jesus said. They would spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to humanity by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Theirs was a message not only of eternal life but one that encompassed the total plan of God to redeem people of every nation, tribe, and language from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.
In the following years, their message would turn the world upside down.
Ordinary men doing extraordinary things.
Ordinary men (and women) like us.
Okay. Maybe a call to become a fisher of men seems irrelevant, strange, or even archaic to us, but in that day, in that setting, to those men it was perfect. Even though they didn’t fully understand what they were signing up to do, they followed the Master.
I think that’s what He is asking of us even today...to follow Him. And even if we aren’t brave or strong or patient or full of faith, He can make us fishers of men as well. Peter didn’t think he was up to the task either, but Jesus used him powerfully to touch his world, and I believe God can use you and me to touch ours. He equips those He calls. He has created us with individual gifts, talents, personalities, experiences, and strengths to do good works that He planned long ago for us do. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live and work in us. He promises to be with us wherever He asks us to go. And there are still a lot of spiritually hungry “fish” out there that need to be “caught.”
Because they are following Jesus, LFA’s teens and young adults are out there “fishing” at Camp Grace this summer in Vineland, Bridgeton, Newfield and Millville. I’m so happy Jude and Law are part of that worthy effort. These evenings, they aren’t looking for silvery bass; they are fishers of men...and boys and girls. Incredible. Thank you, Father.
Shouldn’t we all be “fishing for people?” With Jesus as Captain of our ship, we may end up with a net full! And you probably won’t have to kiss a one on the lips. Asher didn’t.
Well, I’ve heard it said every day is a good day for fishing.
I think Jesus would agree with that. I hope you do too.