Fishing for People
Talking about fishing, my home church pastor, Rev. David Kao, was a fishing hobbyist. It was more than 25 years ago when I was attending the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, San Francisco. One day Pastor Kao took me on a deep-sea fishing trip in Monterey Bay. We rented a boat and set out before dawn and settled at a spot he thought to be the best for us to fish.
He taught me how to bait the hook and drop the line since I have never done deep-sea fishing. I don’t know if I had followed the instruction correctly, it hooked on to something immediately, but it was quite heavy. We were excited, and he helped me reeled in slowly. When we got it off the water, it was a big octopus.
Anyway, it was fun at the beginning, but as the sea began to get wavy and the boat became bouncy, I stated getting seasick and throwing up. The pastor had to wrap up the trip early and returned. I wished I could walk on water so that he could stay fishing, and I returned to the shore by myself.
After that experience of seasickness, I realized fishing could not have become my hobby, far from a career. At least, not the deep-sea fishing.
However, if you failed at fishing, it’s not a big deal because Jesus has a fishing job for you, fishing people. The question is, if you failed at fishing in the water, how can you be sure that you won’t fail at fishing for people?
Reading today’s scripture lesson on Matthew 4:12-23, I figured out a formula for fishing for people—a formula that we can all use to fulfill God’s calling to be fishers of men.
Here’s how you do it. There are four principles of fishing for people. I formulate these principles into an acrostic FISH.
The first principle for a fisher of people is fealty, as opposed to self-serving. Fealty is an old fashion word used to indicate the allegiance of a feudal tenant to his lord. I think it’s an appropriate word for our situation since Jesus is our Lord, and we are his stewards of grace. Our purpose of fishing is to fulfill our stewardship of grace for the Lord, not our self-interest.
Fealty implies a commitment to the Lord’s mission. We can learn this from what Jesus did in today’s passage. The Bible said,
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” Matthew 4:12
Since his cousin and partner in crime, John the Baptist was arrested, it’s obvious that he could be arrested also. Their message of the kingdom of heaven was draining the swamp, so the swamp snakes tried to eliminate them.
Jesus could have withdrawn to his home in Nazareth and hidden behind his mom’s apron out of fear, but he didn’t. It’s significant that he withdrew to Galilee. Why? Galilee is a center of international trade. It was located at the trade routes of Syria to the north, Egypt to the south, Phoenicia and the Mediterranean to the northwest and west. Jewish and Gentile communities occupied the region, living side by side.
It was more metropolitan than Jerusalem. If Jerusalem were compared to Washington, D.C., Galilee was New York City. It was a better place to fish for people since there were all kinds of people from all over the world. It may be like deep-sea fishing—you can catch some octopus too!
It proved Jesus fealty and that he was committed to his calling. His fealty to his heavenly Father took priority to his own safety.
The lesson here is, when you are committed, you fail forward—you withdraw to advance. It’s like playing chess. When you are attacked by your opponent, and you know you must retreat, you calculatedly retreat to a position of an attack on your opponent’s other parts, making your opponent regret their attack. You turn your crisis into opportunity. You turn your failure into a step forward.
Jesus could not fish at the Jordan river bank now because his life was in danger, so he withdrew to a better fishing spot, Galilee.
Fealty means you are committed to making your Lord win. If you hit a wall, you retreat to a greener pasture. When you are committed, your creative juice is always flowing. You don’t succumb to fear and failure.
After all, sometimes, God allows your road to being blocked in order to fulfill God’s greater plan and prophecy. Jesus’ withdrawal to Galilee ended up fulfilling the ancient prophecy. The Bible said,
“He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-- The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Mat 4:15-16)
If your road is closed and you hit a wall, who knows what God has in store for you in another front? If you maintain your fealty, you will see a better door open for you.
So, the first principle of fishing is fealty.
The second principle is the Immediacy. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be fishers of people, the Bible says,
“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Mat 4:20)
Later the same sentence appeared for recruiting James and John. If you read the stories of Jesus’ recruiting his disciples, he didn’t allow any excuses. It was now or never. Those who were indecisive were left behind.
Immediacy has two meanings—a sense of urgency and low-hanging fruit. It’s urgent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We must urgently take action, but such urgency is not a dangerous urgency but an exciting urgency.
It’s like on July 4th morning, you wake up your kids, “Hey, kids get up, it’s time to go to see the parade.” Or, it’s like Christmas time, “Hey, kids get ready, it’s time to go see the Christmas pageant.” They immediately get ready. That’s the kind of urgency and immediacy I’m talking about.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were like these kids. In the same way, you must carry such excitement and immediacy.
Another meaning of immediacy is low-hanging fruit. From Jesus’ perspective as a fisher of people, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were low-hanging fruit. They were ready. Jesus didn’t waste time with the high-hanging fruit. (Maybe they are as sour fruit. Just kidding! 😊)
There is plenty of low-hanging fruit around. God has made them ready. Jesus said,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Mat 9:37)
Be a smart fisherman. Bring in the low hanging fruit first with a sense of immediacy.
The third principle you must hold is sympathy. Sympathy comes out of the spirit of grace. The Bible says that the presence of Jesus is the presence of light to the people in darkness and for those who sat in the shadow of death.
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Mat 4:16).
What is this great light? The word “light” can be nebulous. It could mean anything. Any religion could claim to shed light. Any philosopher could claim to shed light. However, when the Bible talks about the great light, it is about the “Grace Upon Grace” shown in Jesus. I elaborated about it a few weeks ago in another sermon titled, “Living in Grace Upon Grace.”
The next verse says,
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mat 4:17).
Again, what’s the kingdom of God? Always remember, it’s the kingdom of grace. The kingdoms in this world do not have grace. Washington today is a disgrace, just watch the news. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
So, what’s the difference between God’s kingdom and the world’s kingdoms? One simple word, “Grace.” What do you need to enter the kingdom? Repentance.
What does repentance mean? A change of mind. In short, our fishing effort is to bring people from the sea of disgrace to the land of grace. For them to do so, they need a change of mind--repentance.
Since our message is the message of grace, our attitude must be the attitude of grace. Sympathy is another word for grace (it fits better in the FISH acrostic). Jesus came to show God’s sympathy. We fish to deliver God’s sympathy.
We talk about Jesus’ grand scheme of things. He is here to change the world and proclaim the kingdom of grace, but why didn’t he recruit the kings, knights, and powerful people who had more clouts than these poor fishermen? The answer is simple. Humility goes a long way.
One of the greatest disgraces of humanity is a lack of humility. In fact, the reason for the fall in Genesis is human pride or arrogance.
Mother Mary was just a peasant girl. God used her not because of her ability but her humility.
In Luke’s version of this story, Peter’s humility was more vividly depicted:
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Peter saw a miracle which only God could have done. So, he immediately recognized Jesus to be the Lord, and he asked Jesus to go away because he realized he didn’t deserve to be at God’s presence. But Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10).
We don’t deserve to be fishers of men. It is a privilege of grace we humbly enjoy.
Holding these fishing principles, I hope we can all become good fishers of people. Let’s go fishing with:
May God bless you all. Amen!