Parable of the Net

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:44-52

Ever seen River Monsters?  It is a great show that follows the adventures of Jeremy Wade in all sorts of remote and exotic corners of the globe.  He’s smart, he’s got a cool accent, and he’s a man with a plan. 

See, Jeremy Wade is an angler.  And the stuff he does is just incredible.  He knows how to choose just the right line and tackle, hook and bait, to cast into any river and pluck up the exact fish he’s looking for.  It’s really amazing. 

He throws in looking for some giant catfish, and two commercial breaks later he’s yelling “Fish on!” and hauling in some 400 pound leviathan of a catfish. 

I don’t have those kinds of skills.  I just put a worm on a hook and hope for the best.  My approach to fishing isn’t highly targeted. Nobody is going to make a TV show about my angling conquests. 

When Jesus talks about bringing the good news of God’s Kingdom to the world, He calls it “fishing for men.”  I used to picture the kind of fishing that I have some experience with.  The kind of fishing that pros like Jeremy Wade make look so impressive and heroic. 

So I could talk about identifying the kind of person you’re hoping to bring in, and selecting the right kind of bait to attract them and setting the hook as they are brought to the baptismal waters…. And the sermon writes itself from there, right? 

Only, this is completely different from what Jesus is talking about when he teaches about being a fisher-of-men. Sharing the Gospel isn’t about angling.  In fact, one of the obstacles we might face when sharing the gospel is people thinking we “have an angle” or that what we offer is “bait” rather than real food. 

No, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  That’s because fishing with a pole is mostly recreational.  In a survival situation, you can probably provide for yourself and a couple others with a pole.  But commercial fishermen today as well as in Jesus day don’t use rods and hooks.  They use nets.  You will never catch as many fish with a pole as you will with a net. 

Now, of course, nets are not highly targeted.  When you throw a net in the water, you’ll pull in all kinds of stuff.  Some of it will be useless trash.  Some of it will be inedible fish.  But you’ll also pull in good fish. 

See, Jesus makes this very clear in his explanation of the parable: It is not the job of the net to sort out the keepers.  The net just needs to be open. 

A baited hook pretends to be something it isn’t.  The fisherman bobs it around to make it attractive.  It looks good; it smells good (to fish, I mean).  It promises one thing, but it has a completely different purpose. 

 

The reality of God’s Kingdom is beautiful enough that it doesn’t need bait to make it attractive.  And I’m not ashamed of what the Gospel of Jesus does promise. We are being pulled toward Christ, steadily and relentlessly.  We are being brought closer and closer each day and before you know it we are going to see Him face to face.  The invitation is open to literally everyone.  The promise is open to literally everyone. 

A net never pretends to be what it is not.  It’s a simple, humble thing.  It is just tossed into the water, spreads open wide, and is pulled back to shore.  

So, an evangelist is like a net?  No.  So the Gospel is like a net?  No.  The kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  Yes! And what is the kingdom of Heaven?  Look around you.  It’s us.  We, together, are the net.  For us to be functioning well, we have to be spread open wide to receive whomever we come into contact with.   

And if there are tears or holes in the net, we’re going to lose some good fish through them. Every one of us is a necessary part of the net and we have to hold together.  Broken relationships, people drifting away or walking away, hurting or hardened hearts – these all have to be mended. 

A net that doesn’t hold together isn’t going to catch much of anything.  You ever notice that when you read about fishermen in the Bible, if they aren’t casting their nets, they’re mending them? Jesus has grace enough to mend all of the tears and holes in the net.   

You may think that there is no way you are ever going to forgive him or that she will forgive you.  But Jesus has grace enough to do it.  And He intends to do it… not just for your sake, but for the folks who will slip through the holes in the net. 

God isn’t looking to make us slick marketers of the Gospel.  He doesn’t want to make you into a Jesus-salesman.  And spreading the gospel is by no means a competition.  You aren’t angling for people.  You are part of a net that He has cast into the water.  His invitation to us is simple: hold on to one another, and embrace everyone we can as he pulls us toward the shore. 

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