The whole of Sunday’s readings could be read as God’s six tips for fishers of men.
The ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. The Gospels report words spoken by God the Son. With a combination like that, you can find depths of meaning even in the smallest of phrases.
For instance: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” In fact, the whole of Sunday’s readings (Week Three of Ordinary Time, Year B) could be read as God’s six tips for fishers of men.
1: No fishing experience is necessary.
The Gospel shows Jesus choosing Simon, Andrew, James and John – the greatest apostles in history. This is analogous to Alexander the Great picking his commanders or Napoleon forming his inner circle before setting out to conquer the world.
But Jesus doesn’t choose the best and brightest; he doesn’t choose those with the greatest tactical skills or the most far-reaching education. Instead, he chooses simple fisherman, minimally educated.
What these fishermen will achieve will dwarf the accomplishments of Alexander the Great and Napoleon. They will start a revolution of truth that made science possible. They will unleash beauty that reinvents the arts. They will start an ethical system that changes the way human beings are treated worldwide. How?
Because Jesus didn’t say, “Come and fish with me.” He said “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Ultimately, God did it — not them.
2: They didn’t change the river of history; they fished it.
Jesus didn’t call the apostles to change the world. Their goal was to lure a few souls out of the dark waters and into the light of grace.
This took the apostles a long time to understand. They thought their job was to expel the Roman occupiers, bring the tax collectors to heel, or put the Samaritans in their place. No. Their job was to fish.
It is the same with us. We worry about the crushing weight of society’s burdens — politics, the economy, violence — but we don’t have to. Our job each week is to fish. Bring a soul or two closer to Christ. God does the rest.
3: Fishers have to go where the fish are.
It is a little ironic that the Church chose a reading from Jonah as the first reading. In Jonah, the fish is the fisher of men.
But his story gives an important lesson. Jonah didn’t want to travel to Nineveh to preach repentance. But that was where the people who needed to repent were.
In our time, too, we wish we didn’t have to leave our comfortable circles to bring Christ to others. We wish they would approach us and ask us about the faith. They won’t. We have to go where they are.
4: You have to use the lure the fish likes.
God in his wisdom made some fish who love lures, some who love live bait, and some who just go where the other fish are. The fisherman is only successful if he understands this.
It is the same with men and women. Some need to be lured, some need to be fed and some need to be netted. Only by doing things God’s way does Jonah net Nineveh. It is the same for each of us.
5: The first rule of fishing is “Don’t scare the fish.”
One of the first rules a child learns fishing with dad is that he must not scare the fish. The Second Reading gives Christians just this message.
Paul says “those weeping” should act as if they were not weeping; “those rejoicing as not rejoicing … those using the world as not using it fully.”
We might translate Paul for our times this way: “Those who are shouting about politics should not shout; those obsessing about sports should relax; those who hate what their neighbor is doing should put that aside.”
Others might act like these things are the only important things on earth. Not us. We know better. “The world in its present form is passing away,” says St. Paul.
We don’t want our attachments to pieces of the world to block anyone from seeing the next world. We don’t want to scare the fish.
6: The most important thing, though, is to just go ahead and fish.
Simon and Andrew “abandoned their nets and followed him.” James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat” and followed.
God calls us, too, in the middle of our lives — in our workplaces and with our family — to put our plans aside and try to catch a few fish.
The future world depends on it.