Once upon a time, a fisherman from the city goes out fishing on a lake in a small boat. He notices someone else in a small boat open her tackle box and take out a mirror. Being curious he rows over and asks, “What is the mirror for?” “That’s my secret way to catch fish,” she says. “Shine the mirror on the top of the water. The fish notice the spot of sun on the water above and they swim to the surface. Then I just reach down. I hook them and pull them into the boat.” “Wow! Does that really work?” “You bet it does.” “Would you be interested in selling that mirror? I’ll give you $30 for it.” “Well, okay.” After they transfer the money, the city fisherman asks, “By the way, how many fish have you caught this week?” “You’re the sixth,” she replies.
You know, I hate fishing. I find nothing more torturous than sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake slicing up messy gooey night crawlers to catch messy smelly fish. As I like to joke, I pay people to do that! Yet all jesting aside, fishing teaches us something about the kingdom. And, I think, Jesus was brilliant!
The first apostles Jesus chooses are fishermen: Simon, Andrew James and John. Apart from Matthew or Levi, we never find out the other apostles’ trades or occupations, just their political stance, like a Zealot, or where they are from, like, Canaan. Maybe it’s because the fishermen were closest to Jesus. Or, maybe their daily jobs really helped them share the Gospel with people.
Fishing teaches me to be patient, committed and attentive. There are good comparisons. I sit quietly in a boat waiting for the fish to bite. I can sit quietly praying for God to answer prayer. Or, I can wait patiently for a brother and sister to find God in their lives. I go out day after day, rain or shine, to make a catch. I can get up day after day to pray and to live the Gospel in what I say and do. As a fisherman I mend my net, I clean and fix my fishing pole. As a worker in the vineyard of the Lord, I am attentive to the needs of those around me.
The truth is, though, instead of patient people who fish, we are more like the prophet Jonah. He is an “up and down” prophet. If things do not go his way he complains. And when people turn from their sin and listen to him, he complains. Literally, God has to swallow him up for days to keep him from running away. And after the big fish spits him back on shore Jonah realizes his mission: fishing for people. Hook them, and teach them about God.
Water, whales and fish teach us about the spiritual life. St. Eusebius says that fishing is about holiness. Jonah, Simon and Andrew, James and John learn the difficult lessons of holiness. And so do we everyday. “Come after me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you hook people for the kingdom.” Interesting that you and I keep coming back here to the Eucharist. Could it be that we are hooked?
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
Ordinary Time, Cycle B