by Susan Booth
“Let’s go fishing!” The words bring vivid images to mind.
When I was a kid, I liked to go fishing. Actually, to be more precise, I liked spending time with my dad, who liked to go fishing. We’d head down to the dock with a couple of cane poles thrown over his shoulder. Dad would help me bait the hook with a worm or cricket, and I’d plunk it into the water. I liked watching the red-and-white float bob around on the lake. I remember long stretches of sitting in the hot summer sun punctuated by intense bursts of excitement when that float would suddenly dip below the surface.
When I was older, dad taught me to fish in the marsh creek that rose and fell with the ocean’s tide. Different images come to mind: yellow-and-white minnow buckets, the zinging sound of rod and reel, tangled nests of fishing line, and the thrill of landing a keeper-sized flounder.
As familiar as those memories are to me, neither are what Jesus’ disciples envisioned when they heard “Let’s go fishing!” At least a third of Jesus’ 12 disciples were professional fishermen: brothers Peter and Andrew, and their cousins, James and John.
For them, fishing meant casting nets from a boat. They likely recalled the skillful balance of standing and launching a net into the air, the slap it made when it hit the water, and the net’s slow disappearance as the attached stones carried it far beneath the surface. These four were certainly well acquainted with both the disappointing pull of an empty net and the strain of landing one filled to the brim with flapping fish.
Against this backdrop, Jesus called his first disciples: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” These two pairs of fishermen actually had their nets in hand at the time. Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the sea, while James and John were mending theirs. Frayed knots could easily unravel, and missing knots meant that some fish would slip away.
Although this imagery is less familiar, I think it is much more suited to Jesus’ analogy of fishing for people. I like the implied diversity of all kinds and sizes of fish, the expectation of a large haul, and the teamwork it must take to bring them in. I find that fishing for people is rarely one pole, one hook, one bait, and one fish.
Last week as I was walking our dog, a neighbor’s son waved to me from the porch. We’ve chatted a few times before when he would come to visit his mom. “Hey, aren’t you the one who likes to talk religion?” he asked. “I’ve got a question for you.” He pulled out of his pocket a little booklet that someone had given him about finding your purpose in life.
We talked for a bit about the gospel, and I ended up giving him a book that he promised to read. I couldn’t help but think about the different knots in the net that Jesus is using to draw him in. Not only have we had a couple of conversations, but someone gave him that booklet and someone else had invited him to church.
When people come to know Jesus, I love to ask about their stories of what led them to Christ. Usually it is the combined effort of many others. Often in the background there is a praying grandmother, a neighbor who invited them to youth group, a college roommate who talked about the gospel, a co-worker who lived it.
Each knot plays an integral role that works in concert with others. This understanding helps alleviate the pressure we may feel when we think, “It’s now or never, and it’s all up to me!” or when we worry, “I didn’t say enough.” Recognizing our role as a knot in the net also lessens the disappointment when we may not see the result of our labors for long stretches of time. We just need to be faithful to fulfill the role that God has assigned to each of us.
The success of the fishing venture doesn’t depend on us, but on the Father. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Fishing for people doesn’t rest on our own abilities or skill level. Our assignment is to follow Jesus, and he will make us fishers-of-people. When we spend time with him, we can’t help but develop his passion for the lost and broken. Ultimately, his love compels us to share the good news with them, and his Spirit draws the net.
As an accomplished fisherman, Peter had landed big hauls of fish during his career. He also had witnessed the miraculous catches described in Scripture (see Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:4-14). But I like to picture Peter shaking his head in absolute wonder at the end of the day of Pentecost. The 3,000 baptized that day surely shattered any previous fishing records! By following Jesus, disciples become fishers of people.
Be a faithful knot in the net. Let’s go fishing!
 Matthew 4:18-22; ESV. Although most modern versions translate this as “I will make you fish for people,” I think we lose a little something in this attempt to be gender-inclusive. Fishing for people is not just something we do; it’s part of our basic identity. An outcome of our following Jesus is that he will make us “fishers of people.”
Susan Booth is professor of evangelism and missions at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College in Cochrane, Alberta. She and her husband, Steve, served for seven years as missionaries in Budapest, Hungary, before moving to Canada in 2000. She is the author of The Tabernacling Presence of God: Mission and Gospel Witness. Susan enjoys equipping people to share the gospel.