Fishing for People

Tom Murray

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 4: 18-20

Author Norman MacLean published a collection of stories in 1976 about his life called A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. One of his stories begins with these words, “In our family there was no clear distinction between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of two great trout rivers in western Montana. Our father was a Presbyterian minister and fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen, and that John, the favorite, was a dry fly fisherman.”

To me, this is one of the most imaginative opening paragraphs in all of American literature. It’s a bit silly, I suppose, to think of Peter, James, and John as being fly fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. And yet, it’s a perfect metaphor for the discipleship that we are called to as followers of Jesus.

What exactly is it that sets fly fishermen and fly fisherwomen apart from others? Walking into a sporting goods store and dropping $1,800 on a handmade rod and reel, a pair of waders, a vest, hat and sunglasses, and a box of assorted dry flies might make us look like fly fishermen.

But being a fly fisherman involves more than just wearing the right clothes. More than anything, fly-fishing requires commitment. It requires devoting oneself to the craft and the art of stream fishing. Catching trout with a fly means going to where the fish are. It means learning to read the flow of the water. It means climbing over boulders and deadfalls and through willow thickets and clouds of black flies to get to the hidden pools where the fish are waiting in the shadows. It means setting your fly in the exact right spot so that it will float naturally down to where the fish are hiding. In a very real sense, it means stepping into a relationship with the trout one is after.

Evangelism, which is our sharing of the gospel story, is like fly-fishing. It requires a commitment to love our neighbor as we are loved. It requires that we yearn to leave the comfort of our lives behind in order to share what God has done in us. Sharing our faith with others means more than just simply dressing the part. We are called to go out and live alongside those who are searching for God’s presence. We are invited to learn how to “read the waters,” as a fisherman does, so that our lives can interact with the lives of others who are hungry for God’s word.

When we cast our fly into just the right spot, amazing things tend to happen. People who are thirsting for God’s love will envision that love through us. They will see our lives as examples of God’s presence within our community. They will hear our invitation to “come and see” and witness the work that God is doing in us. And perhaps more than anything else, when we cast our flies where they can be seen, we find that we are drawn into the kinds of personal relationships that connect others to God.

When we hear Jesus declare, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” it’s important that we hear what Jesus isn’t saying. He isn’t saying, “Follow me and I’ll make you members of a congregation.” He isn’t saying, “Follow me, and I’ll make you wealthier, or more popular, or more powerful.” He isn’t saying, “Follow me and I’ll love you more than others.”

Instead, Jesus is inviting us to go out into the world and enter into relationships with those whom this world discards. We are called to have the courage to wade out into the current in order to seek out the lost, the lonely, the forgotten, and the abused; and then enter into relationship with them.

God is calling you to live in relationship with others so that their lives may be touched by yours. God is working in you, and through you, to care for others in our community. God will continue to use you, by drawing you into even deeper relationships with those he has placed into your life. This, I think, is what it means to be a disciple and a fisher of people.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. This month’s contributor is Tom Murray of the Lutsen Lutheran Church and Baptism River Community Church of Finland.

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